The Empty Grave by Jonathan Stroud

The Empty Grave, by Jonathan Stroud, was published in 2017 by Hyperion. It is the sequel to The Creeping Shadow.

Five months after the events in The Creeping Shadow, we join Lockwood, Lucy, George, Holly, and their associate Quill Kipps on a perilous night mission. They have broken into the booby-trapped Fittes mausoleum, where the body of the legendary psychic heroine Marissa Fittes lies. Or does it? This is just one of many questions to be answered in Book Five of the Lockwood & Co. series. Will Lockwood ever reveal more about his family’s past to Lucy? Has their trip to the Other Side left the two of them changed forever? Will Penelope Fittes succeed in shutting down their agency—and does she threaten something deeper still? The young operative smut survive attacks from foes both spectral and human before they can take on their greatest enemy in a climactic and chaotic battle .And to prevail they will have to rely on some surprising—and shadowy—allies.

Rating: 4/5

The Empty Grave is a satisfying, suitably big ending for the Lockwood & Co. series, delivering on character development and the usual mix of action, tension, and downtime that is especially distinctive in this series with its formulaic sequencing that manages to avoid being repetitive.

I loved the double meaning of the title in The Hollow Boy, and this title, too, has a double meaning, one which manages to communicate both essential plot elements and character development. Speaking of plot, while nothing in this book totally surprised me, I can’t say anything negative about the buildup or delivery or anything. Perhaps some of the details at the end could have been made clearer—who, exactly, was Ezekiel?—and the final battle was almost anticlimactic in its ending (though there’s no reason why it should have been, knowing what we know about ghosts in these books), but it was also satisfying and thrilling and lots of other good things. The resolution between Lucy and the skull was fantastic—in fact, the entire development of the relationship between the two of them was great, and far more interesting than Lucy’s other significant relationship with Lockwood—and the ending, though not as clear-cut as it possibly could have been, made sense and fit with the overall “feel” of the books.

I really enjoyed these books, so much so that I want to reread the Bartimaeus trilogy again (though I do feel that Lockwood & Co. is a superior series). The balance between horror and levity was spot-on, and Stroud’s writing made me enjoy a story about ghosts, a genre I usually stay away from. The Red Room scene from the first book still stands out in my mind as one of the creepiest scenes in any book I’ve read, yet it hooked me rather than scared me away.

The Empty Grave is a fitting end to the series, with resolution from all corners (no dangling plot threads! Yay!), the satisfaction of knowing that the characters grew and changed throughout the series and weren’t just cardboard throughout, and a slightly ambiguous, but ultimately hopeful ending that was a fitting end. I’m going to miss this series, but I’ll be looking forward to whatever Stroud puts out next.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Supernatural, Middle Grade

You can buy this book here: https://amzn.to/2ryCAqb

The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud

The Whispering Skull, by Jonathan Stroud, was published in 2014 by Hyperion. It is the sequel to The Screaming Staircase.

In the six months since Anthony, Lucy, and George survived a night in the most haunted house in England, Lockwood & Co. hasn’t made much progress. Quill Kipps and his team of Fittes agents keep swooping in on Lockwood’s investigations, which is creating a bit of tension back home at Portland Row. Things look up when a new client, Mr. Saunders, hires Lockwood & Co. to be present at the exhumation of Edmund Bickerstaff, a doctor who, in Victorian times, purportedly tried to communicate with the dead. Saunders needs the coffin sealed with silver to prevent any supernatural trouble. All goes well—until George’s curiosity attracts a horrible phantom. That isn’t the only chaos that follows the phantom’s release. Inspector Barnes of DEPRAC informs Lockwood and Kipps that Bickerstaff’s coffin has been raided and a strange glass object has been stolen. He believes the relic to be highly dangerous, and he wants it found. Meanwhile, Lucy is distracted by urgent whispers coming from the skull in the ghost jar…

The Whispering Skull has great suspense and creepiness to it; it’s basically a really good ghost story. There’s some more development for the characters, which I liked; I liked that Lockwood & Co.’s relationship was tested and that they had to work out some things. It made them seem less two-dimensional.

I also really enjoyed the writing; there are several moments in the book where Stroud does situational humor through his writing, through his descriptions of things. Like when someone mentions the name of the rumored killer “Jack Carver” and a flock of crows bursts from the trees. There’s also a lot of humorous dialogue, and not all of it comes from George, the designated Wise Cracker. And the book as a whole is really entertaining.

However, I’m still less than impressed by the characters. None of them have really done anything to make them stand out very much. I don’t like the “tantalizing mystery” surrounding Lockwood, George doesn’t do much besides be the comic relief, and as a viewpoint character Lucy is really flat. She gets a little development with her interactions with the skull, but still. I don’t understand her character. Both she and George completely revolve around Lockwood and it’s annoying. What I hope will happen is that Lockwood & Co. gets a new team member (preferably female) in the next book, because right now they really need it. (Note from the future: They totally are! Yes! Thank you, Stroud!)

Four more little things bothered me: 1.) it was too unbelievable that the skull in the jar that George happened to pick up just happened to be connected to the case. 2.) The “villain” was really obvious due to Stroud’s almost over-description of him every time he appeared 3.) The ending was a cliffhanger and I hated it. 4.) I didn’t like how almost every character besides the Main Trio were described in unflattering terms.

Rating: 3/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Ghosts and ghouls, scary situations and imagery.

Genre: Supernatural, Mystery, Young Adult (maybe mature Middle Grade if they can handle scary)

“Can you describe them?”

“One, not so much,” the kid said. “Plump bloke, blond hair, scritty mustache. Young, wears black. Name of Duane Neddles.”

George made a skeptical noise that sounded like gas escaping from a rhino. “Duane Neddles? Oh, he sounds scary. Sure you’re not making this up?”

“And the other?” Lockwood called.

The kid hesitated. “He’s got a reputation. A killer. They say he bumped off a rival during a job last year. Maybe I shouldn’t…”

Lockwood stopped short. “It was a team of two last night that bashed your colleague,” he said. “Let’s say one was Neddles. Who was the other?”

The kid leaned close, spoke softly. “They call him Jack Carver.”

A group of crows rose squalling from the gravestones. Wings cracking, they circled against the sky and flew off over the trees.

Overall Review:

The Whispering Skull was deliciously spooky and wonderfully entertaining—but that’s about all it was. I still think the characters are flat and generic, and Lucy particularly, being a first-person narrator, needs some work. There were a number of other small things in the book that bothered me, to the extent where I enjoyed the book, but was annoyed with it at the same time.

You can buy this here:The Whispering Skull