C. S. Lewis famously said ‘A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.‘
Not many authors writing for children manage to reach the balance required for universal popularity but Jonathan Stroud does so outstandingly. The fifth and final instalment of the Lockwood & Co. series, ‘The Empty Grave‘, has been eagerly awaited by persons of all ages and subsequent to its release, day before yesterday, led to acrimonious situations in a household (known to us) where only one book was available.
The last book in any fantasy series is always frightening because you just don’t know which of the characters the author is going to kill off, particularly since it seems to have become de rigueur for authors to do so nowadays. A readers’s sense of doom is further compounded if the author has gone out of his way to drop audacious hints about the impending demise of the main character; the trepidation that follows the reader through the book can be nerve wrackingly, nail bitingly scary. There is then a double whammy of fear when the book happens to be populated by ghosts, poltergeists, spectres, et al.
The team of Lockwood & Co. is back, eating doughnuts, drinking tea, arguing with each other, making smart comments and filling in their ‘working tablecloth’ with notes, rude comments and even worse drawings. All of this while fighting various ghostly apparitions, getting close to solving the mystery behind the ‘Problem’ infesting the world and fearlessly dealing with large and ruthless corporations. All this while also growing up.
(The following conversation may contain spoilers.)
LL: I guess that is the sad part of it. There couldn’t be books of them as grown ups, so it’s probably best to wind up the series now. Although as a reader, I loved it all so much, I would definitely want more.
PS: The only thing that bothered me through the book was the fear that something could happen to either one of the main characters but especially Lockwood and especially after Chapter 6. It’s amazing how as readers we become so emotionally invested in the characters.
LL: But at the same time I felt all those hints were red herrings.
PS: This is probably the first book we have read in parallel, instead of, as we usually do, borrowing the other person’s copy. It was fun to text each other our progress, trepidations and reactions through the reading.
LL: I know! And we both managed to finish the book in a day, having been completely engrossed by it.
PS: So much so that we decided to do the review today instead of waiting until Monday
LL: Stroud’s descriptions of each of the characters is increasingly engaging. Even after four books he finds new ways of depicting Lockwood, George, Lucy, Holly, Kipps and the skull in the jar (who talks to Lucy), describing their idiosyncrasies as well as their distinctive reactions to each situation.
PS: The main characters all work well together as a team. Which is surprising considering that they are all fairly rude to each other. And Lockwood is such a ‘hero’! Which could have made him irritating to the reader but in spite of that it is only the skull, with his dubious morality, who is irritated by him.
LL: We have always felt that Lockwood is in the league of Diana Wynn Jones’s characters like Howl and Chrestomancy; a peacock (with his swirling coat and slightly too tight suits) who is inherently a decent human being, outrageously brave, as well as being a good leader who inspires confidence.
PS: The best part, I think, is that very frightening and tense situations are lightened by the humorous conversations and quips of the characters, not to mention the chocolate eating and tea drinking.
We would like to thank Jonathan Stroud for:
- Publishing regular installments over the years, including the concluding book. Which is no small feat in light of the tardy manner in which popular writers behave these days.
- For providing us with such a wonderfully scary and fun bunch of ghost stories.
- For leaving us with no quibbles regarding the ending except perhaps the lack of clarity re the identity of the skull.
In light of what we had mentioned in an earlier blog post, we feel Jonathan Stroud is definitely entitled to awards.