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A ghost in every page

LAVANYA MOHAN
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Ghosts, violence, sword fighting and humour… Jonathan Stroud’s latest offering has all this and more. LAVANYA MOHAN

Having been a part of what I’d like to call “The Harry Potter Generation”, I have a lot of cynicism (and high expectations) when it comes to new releases in the Young Adult Fantasy genre. Jonathan Stroud’s The Screaming Staircase, however, overcame my cynicism, and surpassed all expectations.

Lucy hears a who

Set in the future, London is facing an epidemic of ghosts, known as “The Problem”. Spectres, spirits and poltergeists loom over the city — on the roads, in parks, houses, bedrooms, behind staircases, and the only way to get rid of them is by calling a trained Agent to exterminate them. Agents, however, are invariably children and teenagers because only they possess the sensitivity to hear or see these ghosts. Lucy Carlyle is one such 15-year-old with the ability to hear ghosts. When she runs away from home to London looking for a career in investigating hauntings, she finds herself being employed by Lockwood & Co., one of the smallest and most run-down agencies in the city, run by Anthony Lockwood and his assistant George Cubbins — boys barely older than her. After a particularly disastrous case, the agents of Lockwood & Co. get one final opportunity to redeem themselves, an opportunity that involves risking their lives in the most haunted house in all of England, an opportunity that they accept.

Changing perspective

Among my many favourite things in this book, apart from the witty female narrator and the distorted chronology with which the story begins, is that while the story is set in the future, Stroud doesn’t get carried away with his alternate world — there is no fancy gadgetry or hostile new governments or flying cars that run on olive oil, and yet, he has created, with impeccable attention to detail, a whole new London, which is dark, strange and sinister.

Those familiar with Jonathan Stroud’s previous hit series — The Bartimaeus Trilogy , will also be aware of his knack for creating distinctive characters. Anthony, Lucy and George are all flawed, but immensely lovable. The snappy dialogue and humour (which can only be described as British) that is shared by them makes for enjoyable reading. The plot is not the most complex, but Stroud leaves you wanting more with each page. The Screaming Staircase is one of those few books that not only immerse you, but also compel you to choose its reality over your own. Once you’re done with this book, the dark will never be the same again.

Title: The Screaming Staircase

Author: Jonathan Stroud

Publisher: Random House

Price: Rs. 550

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