Audiobook Review: The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Audiobook Review: The Whispering Skull by Jonathan StroudThe Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud
Narrator: Katie Lyons
Length: 11 hrs, 37 mins
Series: Lockwood & Co. #2
Published by Listening Library on September 16, 2014
Genres: Adventure, Horror, Mystery, Paranormal
Source: Publisher
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three-half-stars

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. Finally, in a fit of anger, Anthony challenges his rival to a contest: the next time the two agencies compete on a job, the losing side will have to admit defeat in the "Times" newspaper. 
Things look up when a new client, Mr. Saunders, hires Lockwood & Co. to be present at the excavation of Edmund Bickerstaff, a Victorian doctor who reportedly 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. 
Back home at Portland Row, Lockwood accuses George of making too many careless mistakes. Lucy is distracted by urgent whispers coming from the skull in the ghost jar. Then the team is summoned to DEPRAC headquarters. Kipps is there too, much to Lockwood's annoyance. Bickerstaff's coffin was raided and a strange glass object buried with the corpse has vanished. Inspector Barnes believes the relic to be highly dangerous, and he wants it found. 
The author of the blockbuster Bartimaeus series delivers another amusing, chilling, and ingeniously plotted entry in the critically acclaimed Lockwood & Co. series.

I hereby decree 2015 the year of series binging. Sure, this series isn’t finished, but I got through the audiobooks of the first two installments in about a week, which, I flatter myself, isn’t too shabby. People have told me great things of Stroud’s Bartimaeus books, but I wasn’t sure if they were my thing. The Lockwood and Co. books, however, are a delight and, yes, I do actually intend to get to Bartimaeus at some point as a result. The Whispering Skull wasn’t quite as compelling for me as The Screaming Staircase, but that could be due to the narrator change.

Narrator swaps are one of the frustrating things about being an audiobook listener. Sure, I knew ahead of time that there was a change in narrator between books one and two, so I thought I was prepared. The thing is that I ended up really loving Miranda Raison’s narration. Katie Lyons does her best, keeping her accents and such well-aligned with Raison’s. However, Raison did a really nice job distinguishing between the characters, whereas I had trouble knowing who was speaking in The Whispering Skull sometimes. Schedules being what they are, it’s not always possible to get the same narrator, but it can be really sad.

Coming along with a step down in my affection for the narration was a decrease in my attachment. Since I didn’t always know who was talking and the narration wasn’t as lively, the characters didn’t feel as real to me as they did in book one. They are, largely, unchanged. One of the things that tends to lose me in middle grade series is the lack of development that the kids go through, because, if they grow too fast, they’ll suddenly be young adults. The Whispering Skull avoids this with some nice arcs for George and Lockwood, which come up at the very end of the novel.

The mystery also didn’t catch my fancy quite as much. It’s a bit more of a typical investigation with murders and clue-hunting, with less of the ghost hunting. The Whispering Skull has less of a paranormal horror vibe and is more of a straight up mystery. I actually didn’t realize until this moment that I prefer horror to mysteries apparently, which I don’t think I would have guessed.

I think my favorite aspect of the book is the titular whispering skull. It begins talking to Lucy at the end of the previous book. First off, I’m all for Lucy’s new talent, and I want to know what she can do with it. Perhaps more importantly, I love what a gray area the skull is. It’s unclear whether it’s a malevolent force or an ally. So far, it sort of seems like both. Also, the skull totally finds undead pleasure in messing with Lockwood and Co., which amuses me very much.

This all sounds quite negative, but The Whispering Skull IS a satisfactory follow up to The Screaming Staircase. I’d say that its main fault is really in following after such an excellent book that was narrated so well. My eagerness for the third book in the series is in no way diminished, though I hope Miranda Raison returns.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

gif skeleton last unicorn
The dead have to find something to amuse them.

6 responses to “Audiobook Review: The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud”

  1. Casey says:

    I am a huge Stroud fan and have been following him since the first Bartimaeus book (which I do think you will like – tons of snark, TONS) and I am so in love with this series too. Glad you like it and I wish more people would find it. It was one of my top books to get at BEA last year.

    • Christina Franke says:

      Ooooh, good to know. I think I checked it out once and then took it back without trying. The covers (at least back in the day) were so ugly and I was tempted by shinier, but probably worse, books. I think I read all the vampire things instead. Haha. Good choice, past self!

  2. […] The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud, narrated by Katie Lyons review by Reader of Fictions […]

  3. Brian Williams says:

    I’m sorry to say that you will be disappointed with the third book because yet _another_ reader, Emily Bevans is introduced who has clearly not even listened to the first two books and launches into a North of England accent. While this is more authentic with the book character’s origins, it is completely at odds with the first two readers who have stuck with standard English pronunciation (although Lyons regrettable introduced the odd glottal stop here and there).

    I find it _extremely_ grating when readers are swapped out arbitrarily, and no attempt appears to be made to achieve a kind of continuity with previous readings.

    If I had more time to just sit and read, maybe I would stick with the written word to avoid this. Unfortunately, audiobooks fill the vital role of filling in the boring time when mundane tasks allow me too much time to ponder on the ills of the world.

    • Christina Franke says:

      I actually listened to the third book pretty recently. Mini review here: http://readeroffictions.com/2015/10/size-doesnt-matter-13-mini-reviews-from-a-lazy-blogger/.

      While I did notice the huge change in accents, I’m not as upset as you are. Yes, I very much wish the first narrator had done all of the audiobooks, I’m just glad it’s not the narrator from The Whispering Skull, who I think has been the weakest of the lot thus far.

      If it makes you feel any better, there have been some obnoxious continuity fails, even when the same narrator is kept through out. Pronunciations of key terms were changed in both the Soulless series by Gail Carriger and The Others series by Anne Bishop.

  4. Brian Williams says:

    Good to hear – I’ve just started it and was so shocked I had to halt it. Just like Lockwood, I have an excellent ear for accents!

    Have you listened to Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon stories? Not sure if it is the case in the States, but the first few here had the same narrator who was very good, particularly with Danish accents. In the last one however, the Danish accent of a Dane who had lived in Northumbria for some decades had been altered into a Northumbrian (20th century) accent! Most off-putting…

    The Bartimaeus series is very good though I would have preferred a happier ending. (Sorry if that’s a spoiler!)

    Also, I can recommend the Golem and the Genie for something in a similar fantasy genre with some fascinating early 20th C New York migrant cultural explorations.

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