I went into Lockwood & Co by having heard of a tv series I never ended up watching and having forgotten reading the Bartimeaus Trilogy also by Jonathan Stroud. (To be fair, I read those books as they came out so it was about twenty years ago)
The series set in an alternate England that has had a twist on the zombie apocalypse. Instead, it’s a ghost dystopia, where ghosts have become so common and dangerous that society barely able to function.
Fortunately, ghosts do have some fundamental vulnerabilities, like iron or silver or fire. And, since this is a young adult series, only children have the psychic ability to detect ghost. Thus setting up a world where child labor laws have been completely thrown out the window.
It’s some nice world building, although it does make you wonder about the world outside England and why hasn't ghost-ridden England collapsed back into the Stone Age.
Lockwood & Co is a tiny, independent agency of ghostbusters (no, they don’t use that term in the books) and every member, particularly the initial three are all extraordinary. Lockwood is a charismatic leader and a brilliant tactician. George is so brilliant he’s able to figure out the complex nature of ghost problems despite the obfuscation of the authorities. And Lucy, the narrator, has a once in maybe a generation psychic talent that is so strong she can talk to ghosts.
Which lets us have the skull, a powerful but captive ghost who is a bonus member of the crew. The skull is relentlessly snarky, deflating every situation it’s a part of. Needless to say, the skull is pure comedy gold.
Wish fulfillment can be a big part of young adult literature. (Harry Potter is a wizard. Percy Jackson is a demi-god. Holden Caulfield doesn’t belong on this list) And Lockwood & Co has plenty of it.
Stroud balances that with the nightmarish horror of the ghost plague and a theme that carries over from the Bartimeaus Trilogy, that power, authority and money corrupt. Adults aren’t just useless but actively malicious a lot of the time.
I’m not going to go into the plot but I will say that the series isn’t a Ghost of the Week setup. There is an overarching plot that each book builds on and the fifth book is clearly the last one.
Lockwood & Co is a good read, a fun example of world building and I’m sure it’s already an RPG system without even looking.