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Review: ‘The Creeping Shadow’ by Jonathan Stroud

The Creeping Shadow by Jonathan StroudPrepare yourselves, because The Creeping Shadow ends in one hell of a cliff hanger!  Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood & Co. series goes from strength to strength, widening its scope with even novel and hooking me in with every page.

Not often can we say that middle grade fiction rises to the strength of the Harry Potter series, but I honestly believe that Lockwood & Co. is just as good.  And finally, with this new installment we are entering the territory surrounding the root of ‘the Problem’.

Lockwood & Co. are a small, independent agency dealing with the problem of ghosts that have been plaguing the UK.  No one knows why the problem began and only children are equipped with the psychic talents to deal with the infestation.  The small agency must battle internal politics, external politics between the largest rival agencies, navigate the criminal underworld, the paranormal otherworld and eat cake!

The characters are strong and flow with personality.  They each have a unique voice and represent archetypes to which we can all relate.  Watching Lockwood, Lucy, Holly and George (with the newest addition of Quill Kipps) fight side by side is an absolute joy.  The way they interact with each other, their humour and their individual ideals make them the perfect team.  You can’t help but be invested in them.

The plot of The Creeping Shadow finally leads us down the path to resolution.  The source of the ‘Problem’ has been hinted at since the beginning, but the events of this novel really make it feel like we’re reaching a climax.  People we trusted turn out to be up to no good, and characters who we’ve learned to distrust save the day!  Everything happens for a reason, nothing is incidental, and the descriptions of ghosts, ‘sources’ and other paranormal activity are visceral and spooky.  The way the story unfolds is like a puzzle, with all the pieces coming together right at the end to reveal the big picture.

I finished The Creeping Shadow in a day, and I’m desperate for more.  Jonathan Stroud is the reason I look forward to September.

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Review: ‘The Haunting of Jessop Rise’ by Danny Weston

The Haunting of Jessop Rise Book CoverThe Haunting of Jessop Rise was an entertaining read.  It was an unassuming, simple haunted house story with elements of gothic horror that neither excited nor bored.  It simply waswhich in some cases is exactly what you want as a reader.  I read the whole book in a few hours so it never overstayed its welcome, and for a middle grade novel it did have some pretty effective moments of fear.

William, the protagonist is a surprisingly deep character.  Weston actually does a great job of building a pretty decent character profile in a very short amount of time.  The main characters felt read and the satellite characters didn’t have too much fleshing them out that the novel felt bloated.  My only issue with the characters though was that they felt too much like characters from other novels.  There was nothing particularly unique about them to set them apart from better works of the 19th century, or more involved haunted house stories.  There were elements of Jane Eyre, The Woman in Black and even Great Expectations.

Using North Wales as a setting for was originally what drew me to The Haunting of Jessop Rise.  Wales is a country rife with folklore and mystery.  It is a place where tales of witches and fairies become almost believable and the countryside almost seems to sing with the voices of ancient civilisations.  There was potential here, but a potential that was completely unrealised.  The one element of the particularly Welsh supernatural was actually pretty unnecessary to the plot, and most of the action took place in the confines of the titular Jessop Rise meaning that the setting of Wales was largely unnecessary.  The local Welsh were represented as menial and superstitious, whereas the English characters somehow seemed superior, going so far as to scoff at the Welsh language.  This bothered me.  I’m sure it wasn’t the intention of the author, and indeed was probably pretty historically accurate in the way perceptions lay at the time, however that’s the benifit of writing fiction.  Weston simply could have done more.

All in all, The Haunting of Jessop Rise was a short read and one that I must admit I enjoyed despite its shortcomings.  It’s an entertaining middle grade horror if nothing else.

 

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