Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Review: Lockwood & Co: The Hollow Boy by Jonathan Stroud

Lockwood & Co. might be the smallest (some might say shambolic) Psychic Detection Agency in London. But its three agents - Lockwood, Lucy and George - are exceptional Talents. And they get results. When an outbreak of ghostly phenomena grows to terrifying levels in Chelsea, Scotland Yard is left baffled.

Even more baffling is that Lockwood & Co appear to have been excluded from the huge team of Agents investigating the Chelsea Outbreak. Surely this is the perfect chance for them to show once and for all that they're actually the best in town? Well, that's if they can put aside their personal differences for long enough to march into action with their rapiers, salt and iron . . .

To my great shame, I have just realised that I have not featured reviews of either of the first two Lockwood & Co. books on this blog. This discovery has caused no small amount of confusion as well, as I was pretty sure I had posted a review of at least one of the books, but all I can find is a brief mention of The Screaming Staircase in my Books of 2013 post. Maybe I just wrote the reviews in my head? Hey, whatever, they are both flippin' brilliant so if you haven't done so and you like horror stories with a dash of comedy (or comedy stories with a massive dollop of the spooky) then make it a priority, and definitely before you read this third outing, The Hollow Boy.

I have been a fan of Jonathan Stroud's writing ever since I first read The Amulet of Samarkand, and he continues to impress all these years later (twelve years since the first Bartimaeus book! Can you believe it?). In fact, great as the first two Lockwood & Co. books were, this one is even better and certainly confirms Stroud as one of the best MG/YA writers around (and so begins the discussion - is Lockwood & Co. YA or MG? I'd have to ignore those often overlapping categories and go for a more specific 11+ in this case I think).

At the end of The Whispering Skull we were left with something of a cliffhanger - whilst the main story had been brought to a satisfying conclusion, Lockwood was finally about to reveal something of the mystery of his past to his two fellow agents, Lucy and George. The Hollow Boy doesn't exactly pick up where things were left - we have to wait a handful of chapters of ghost hunting for that - and when we do finally find out, the reveal leaves us with almost as many questions as answers. And we are not the only ones left wanting more - the ever-inquisitive Lucy Carlyle is also left wondering, something which obviously continues to cause friction throughout the story. And that's not the only cause of tension between Lucy and Lockwood - due to the increase in their cases since their successes in The Whispering Skull, Lockwood deems it necessary to take on an assistant in the form of the seemingly perfect Holly Munro. Cue that ole' green eyed monster that is jealousy taking a firm root in Lucy's mind.

Not only does Stroud use The Hollow Boy to really develop Lucy's character, he also gives us a much greater understanding of the alternative London/world that he has created, especially with regards to the scale of the 'Problem' and how it affects whole populations and not just individuals who are unlucky enough to live in a haunted house. It's also a much darker instalment for Lockwood and his friends, to the point where as readers we are not entirely sure whether all of them will make it to the final page alive. As narrator, Lucy also drops the occasional hint that things do not turn out perfectly for the team, and this just ramps up the tension even more.

There are reveals and developments aplenty in The Hollow Boy, but I feel the book also needs to come with an advisory notice as by the end we are most definitely left with even more questions than we had at its beginning, and even worse - the cliffhanger at the end is even bigger and more jaw dropping than that at the end of The Whispering Skull. And unlike that previous episode, even the main plot line of this book does not have a neat and tidy ending and we are cruelly left with all kinds of (most likely hideously incorrect) suppositions and conjectures floating around in our minds.

And now we have to wait for another year for book four, but resat assured I will be putting in my preorder as soon as it is listed in a certain online store, just as I did with The Hollow Boy.

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