Lockwood & Co: The Whispering Skull – review

lockwood2I read and LOVED the first Lockwood & Co book earlier this year, so I was really, properly excited to get my hands on the second in Jonathan Stroud’s series, The Whispering Skull. Lucy Carlyle is fast becoming one of my favourite heroines ever, with her courage, talent and general awesomeness. Having said that, I have one major, major gripe about this book – and it has NOTHING to do with the writing. Or the story. It’s the cover.

Look at that cover. It’s fab, really atmospheric, scary and strong. The boy looks dark and intense, and the drawn sword and the skull and the graveyard…yep, it’s all there.

Except it isn’t. Because this is Lucy’s story. She’s the narrator. The book is written in first person, in her voice. Anthony Lockwood (who is the character on the cover, presumably) is very important – but he’s not the only one. WHERE IS LUCY ON THE COVER? She’s not there. Why not? She should be. It’s her story. She was on the cover of the first book (alongside Lockwood) so why isn’t she on this one too?

I have a horrible, sinking feeling that Lucy isn’t on the front cover because the publishers were afraid that boys wouldn’t read the book if there was a girl staring out at them. And yes, I acknowledge that there is, for SOME boys, a problem with reading books that have a female central character. But COME ON! Lucy is an AWESOME character. And if you’re worried about putting her on the cover, then put her AND her two male companions there, side by side – after all, they’re a team. But don’t leave Lucy off altogether. Sorry, Random House, I was REALLY disappointed about this. And I hope very much that Lucy will reappear on the cover of Book Three. Because if she doesn’t, you’re doing her a disservice – and Jonathan Stroud, who’s written another CRACKING book.

This story picks up a few months after the first one ended. Lockwood & Co is doing well since its success with the difficult case of the Screaming Staircase, though impulsive decisions and lazy research nearly wipe them all out in the very first chapter of Book 2. Rescued by their mortal enemies, Quill Kipps (what a BRILLIANT name) and the members of the Fittes Agency, Lockwood, George and Lucy agree in the heat of the moment to a competition: the next time they come up against each other on a case, the loser will be forced to publicly admit defeat in a national newspaper, naming the winner as superior. It’s a matter of pride, and Lockwood & Co, though they may not have the fancy uniforms and the high-level financial backing, have a lot of pride.

In some ways, this book should be called ‘The Bone Mirror’ because the case at the heart of it is about a mirror constructed from bones which have ghosts attached to them (called Sources) and which is supposed to show the observer…well, I can’t say what. But suffice it to say, it’s a highly dangerous experiment that has claimed the lives of people in the past and which is uncovered when someone digs up a corpse. There are some genuinely chilling moments, and the story is so well constructed that even when the pace drops, the reader isn’t tempted to put down the book.

The writing is SO good too. I adore the character descriptions. This one, of Kat Godwin (from the Fittes agency) had me in stitches:

‘…she was flintily ambitious and cool-natured, and had less capacity for humour than a terrapin. Jokes made her irritable, as if she sensed something going on around her that she couldn’t understand. She was good-looking, though her jaw was a bit too sharp. If she’d repeatedly fallen over while crossing soft ground, you could have sewn a crop of beans in the chin-holes she left behind.’

Even copying that out made me laugh out loud. This book has everything: a fierce plot, a superb heroine (and narrative voice), witty humour and great ambitious scope. AND the skull of the title – which featured in the first book – begins to converse regularly with Lucy, confirming its status as a Type Three Ghost (extremely rare) and Lucy’s Talent as a Listener.

Oh my – and the last page had me GAGGING for the next book. Huge congratulations to Jonathan for a stupendous sequel, and I can’t wait for the third. As long as it has Lucy on the cover 🙂

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