Although this was one of my most anticipated new releases of 2013 - I basically preordered it the moment I heard about it - I approached it with a certain trepidation.
You probably know the kind: you've loved an author's previous work (in this case, for me, this was Stroud's Bartimaeus series) so very
much that you're not really even sure you want to try their new work because it cannot possibly measure up.
Still, it sounded excellent, so I dove in predisposed to love it.
And ... there was a lot to like about it. There really was.
Lucy, for starters, is a very likeable protagonist; brave, sensible, yet impulsive and not numbed by her line of (very dangerous) work of ghost-busting. Her co-leads, Lockwood and George - Lockwood clearly designed to be likeable from the start, George less so but a character you grow to appreciate nevertheless.
The atmosphere - spooky. The world-building - imaginative and intriguing, this world that is so much like ours and yet not (a trait this series shares with the Bartimaeus books, although this is a rather different take on our contemporary-yet-changed world). The writing - wonderful, with some really lovely turns of phrase.
So... with all that said, why the three stars? I suppose it's more like three and a half, but I asked myself whether I liked
this book or really
liked this book, and came away with "well, liked, not really
liked". I enjoyed it; it's a lot better than many other books I've rated worth three stars. On the other hand, there's the inevitable comparison not just with any other books but with my own expectations for Stroud's work, and this book just lacked
that "wow" feeling that I had with the Bartimaeus books.
Not only because it didn't have a character I could instantly adore, as likeable as the cast was, but also because it just... I don't know, maybe I'm too old and jaded for this particular kind of book? I got the feeling it relied heavily on the spookiness, and while I appreciated the writing, it didn't once actually evoke any deeper feeling in me. I didn't feel
the horrors, I didn't feel
the fear. I just read a story. A well-written, interesting story where I wanted to know what would happen next, but I didn't get immersed in it.
I also wasn't quite convinced by the pacing: the book starts off with some excitement, which is then followed by a relatively lengthy flashback / backstory sequence, and only at about halfway into the book (i.e. over 200 pages in) did I start to get the feeling that now we're getting somewhere; that now the plot was starting to creep in (in hindsight, it had been there all along, or at least in that starting bits, but it didn't feel that way when reading). There was some excitement towards the end and a relatively decent mystery, at least.
All that said, I'm more than willing to give the next book(s) in this series a go - I trust that there will be more character development and less world-building history in the next books, which might help.