When ghosts talk, she will listen . . .
Ropa dropped out of school to become a ghost talker – and she now speaks to Edinburgh’s dead, carrying messages to the living. A girl’s gotta earn a living, and it seems harmless enough. Until, that is, the dead whisper that someone’s bewitching children – leaving them husks, empty of joy and life. It’s on Ropa’s patch, so she feels honour bound to investigate. But what she learns will change her world.
She’ll dice with death (not part of her life plan . . .) as she calls on Zimbabwean magic and Scottish pragmatism to hunt down clues. For Edinburgh hides a wealth of secrets. And in the process, she discovers an occult library and some unexpected allies. Yet as shadows lengthen, will the hunter become the hunted?
First of all, thank you to Tor UK and Stephen and Jamie-Lee at Black Crow for this wonderful review copy.
The Library of the Dead is a debut full of character, full of quirky voice and full of ghosts. Ropa’s POV is enthralling, funny and her spin on the paranormal, where mediums are licensed and taking messages from ghosts is run of the mill, is utterly human and downright charming. It’s a book that’ll talk your ear off in Ropa’s smart quips and keep you entertained with enough ghosts to last a lifetime.
The plot sees Ropa searching for a missing child – the ghost of his mother won’t leave her alone and can’t pay for her services, so she’s going to have to dig deep in her charitable pocket and set this one up for free. Only, it isn’t just one child, there’s a spate of missing children. The ones that have been found so far are … changed. Meanwhile, her friend Jomo’s working at a mysterious library that’s got a hidden, magical secret and she’s just about keeping her head above water with the rent owed to her landlord. Though, there’s plenty of ghosts that need a message delivered, and plenty of family members that are ready to pay for those messages – Ropa’s a ghostalker and specialises in messages from the dead.
At first, I thought this book was set in present day, or near that, Scotland. But with all the hints in the book, it’s set in a world where a war or a great calamity happened that Scotland was on the wrong side of and they’re still left reeling from it. There’s a King and we’re in what seems to be a post-apocalyptic future where there’s slums and poverty galore in Scotland – well, not quite post-apocalyptic, but you get the feeling that they’ve messed up and aren’t getting any help any time soon. The mobile phones recharge themselves by movement, fossil fuels are shot and electric and coal are all the rage; only Ropa’s grandma can remember a time they didn’t use coal. So it’s an interesting setting. What you also have to pair this with is the fact that everyone’s accepting of ghosts, magic, mediums, magicians – this is one thing that took me by surprise. It wasn’t until a little way into the book that I realised it was run of the mill, so that was quite clever. There’s a lot to keep the reader intrigued. That, and Ropa is hilarious.
With regards to the plot and Ropa being such a character, I feel like it takes a little bit of a backseat here in favour of Ropa, her antics, her worldview and just general Ropaness … which isn’t a bad thing. I can appreciate a character-driven story, but they’re not my usual type of book. There was a point where I’d kind of forgotten about the main plot, because we were busy delivering messages from the dead with Ropa and hearing about her rich family history and culture, stories of a time when her gran was the one dealing with the dead – which, if it was delivered in any other voice, might get boring, but it’s Ropa’s so you just kind of go with it. She’s such a strong, likeable character. An active character full of gusto, daring and wit, who has ownership on her life. This isn’t a character that’ll sit by and watch things happen, she’s the one who will sort it out and I loved that about her. However, the main storyline is so full of intrigue that I wish it came to the forefront a little more. It is the main plot thread, after all, so we do get there, but it takes until the last third of the book to really focus on moving it forward.
The history and practice of magic is something of particular note here, Huchu goes to great lengths to flesh out the theory and what practitioners of the past have written about it; Ropa’s studying of magic, working it out and eventually using it is wondrous. It took me by surprise to find such a hard magic system in this book about halfway through but I loved it and was here for it. It’s set out in solid, scientific terms and is treated as such. She studies the books, learns the theory and puts it into practice. I do love a good magic system so this was fantastic.
Overall, if you love all things paranormal, a punchy, page-turning voice and lots of magic, this is certainly a book I’d recommend picking up. However, you have to be aware that this is focused heavily around the character and might be not sit well with people who love a book that goes beat-by-beat with the plot.