If you’ve been reading my reviews for a while now, you’ll know that this book practically has my name written all over it. Spooky read set in Scotland with a non-Western magic system and a library involved? Yes, I was all over this book as soon as I heard about it. When the lovely Jamie-Lee at Black Crow PR offered a chance to review The Library of the Dead, I was right there.
This book was provided for free by Black Crow PR and the publishers in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Jamie Lee of Black Crow PR for providing me with the opportunity to review it!
I found out recently that content warnings put some people off reading books, however, as someone who has been triggered badly and sent down a depression spiral by a book I stand by including them in my reviews. I’ve also had several of you let me know that you appreciate them, so I’m not going to stop including them. However, if I want people to start including them, and thus accept my perspective, I also need to accept their perspective as well. So from now on my content warnings will be under a spoiler tag (I’ll be going back through previous reviews to implement this over the next few weeks).
Click the tag below to view the content warnings:
There are some scenes involving children that some readers may find disturbing (not of a sexual or abusive nature). There are a few scenes of physical abuse, and a scene of abduction involving a child in distress. There are a few scenes that readers with claustrophobia may find uncomfortable. Overall, keep in mind that this is a young adult novel so while there are dark and horror elements, there is nothing very dark. I’m just mentioning specific elements that may trigger people.
The Library of the Dead was an absolute delight to read from start to finish. Ropa is such a spirited protagonist who lives in the future, an almost dystopian time when the cities have been abandoned. I say “almost” dystopian because the world that Huchu has created is not the apocalyptic future that we usually see in books and films where nuclear war or disease has decimated the world. It’s almost subtle changes at first that give it away. People still live in houses with all the mod cons we take for granted, it’s only when Ropa has an altercation with the police, and she refers to the motorised vehicles they used to have that I realised we’re not in Kansas any more Toto!
Huchu doesn’t make a huge deal about what happened, and I’ll admit that I struggled with that a bit as I read The Library of the Dead. As a reader I like a clear picture of what is happening, what has happened and where we are. I kept trying to put the pieces together, scrambling for crumbs of information, and it’s only now as I sit down to write this review that I realised why there’s so little information about the before time; it doesn’t matter. I don’t know whether Huchu thought it would be a distraction, or whether it was because Ropa was born into this world, either way, the point is that what happened doesn’t change the life that Ropa and her family live in now. It doesn’t change the fact that Ropa left school to become a Ghostalker, a path that ultimately leads her to investigate the missing children and onto something much, much bigger. Could we call it destiny, or is it too early to go there?
In short, what’s done is done, and getting too hung up on the past is a dangerous thing. It’s something that Ropa knows all too well, as she talks to ghosts and ferries messages between them and their living friends and family. In doing so she earns a living and if she helps ghosts move on, that’s a bonus. It’s not that she doesn’t care, but she’s got a little sister and a sick grandmother to look after, and no one else is going to pay their rent or bills for them. Definitely not the dead.
Recently I’ve found myself reading a lot of magical realism novels masquerading as fantasy, and The Library of the Dead is a fantastic example of how you can combine realism and fantasy (or urban fantasy, technically). Huchu has kept all the urban fantasy elements; ghosts, magic, rituals, monsters and so on, and without the cost of any real life situations at all. In fact, this book feels more real than the magical realism ones do.
Take, for instance, the disabled character Priya. How does someone in a wheelchair get around an ancient library filled with stairs? Ambulatory magic! Ambulatory is a medical term that has various meanings, one of which is to refer to mobility aids. If you follow my blog, may have heard me talk about Ambulatory wheelchair users, disabled people who require the use of a wheelchair for some activities. I’m an ambulatory wheelchair user in some extreme situations. So, in ambulatory magic is magic that is connected to mobility devices and/or for accessibility! You can see it in action for yourself in The Library of the Dead 🙂 I’m not going to spoil it any more for you. I wanted to mention it because this is a fantastic use of applying magic to disability representation and not using it as a cure. I’ll be honest, it blew me away, and then I kicked myself for never thinking of it myself!
The Library of the Dead is chock-full of diverse representation, but none of it is forced. It is one of the most natural novels I’ve read in a long time. For example, Ropa visits one of her Ghostwalking customers, and they are a gay couple. It’s not even mentioned that they are gay, and that is the way it should be. The only reason we know they are is that Ropa’s thoughts tell us that the two men are partners, which she does with everyone she meets.
Ropa is a joy to read as a protagonist. She’s salty, down to earth and takes no crap. Yet she also knows when to back down and play it safe when the risk is too high. She’s only fifteen and manages to get things done, especially when none of the adults can be bothered. One thing I liked about Huchu’s writing was that he doesn’t write Ropa as a superhero who gets away with everything. There are some serious consequences to her actions that she has to deal with at the end of the book, which lead nicely into book two (the synopsis and cover have just been released). She’s not the only interesting character, Priya became a quick favourite of mine for many reasons, as did many of the cast. Even the minor characters are so well-defined.
As for the plot of The Library of the Dead, be prepared for a wild ride (at one point, quite literally!). Huchu is a master at subtle messages and manipulation. He pulls you in, lulls you into a comfortable complacency, and then pulls the entire rug out from under you. It almost feels like you’ve picked up an entirely different book, and it’s not a cosy ghost hunting novel any more – it’s a horror novel! Rest assured you are still reading the same book, and it’s just clever writing, not the sign of a clumsy writer who forgot what they were writing. Everything makes sense as you keep reading and all those subtle messages finally begin to catch up. By that point I’d began to work out what was going on, but that doesn’t change my admiration for Huchu’s writing, it just made me more eager to see if it was on the right track!
The Library of the Dead is a brilliant start to a new series, and urban fantasy fans will love the new characters and magic system that Huchu brings to the table. Geeks will love the obscure pop culture references, such as Mortal Kombat: Conquest By setting it in Edinburgh and drawing on Zimbabwean magic, Huchu has created a delightfully unique protagonist that takes no crap and stands up for what she believes in. At only fifteen, Ropa is already a force to be reckoned with, and we’re only at the start of her journey. I can’t wait to follow it further and see who else she meets as she learns more about her magic, the secrets of Edinburgh and herself.
The Edinburgh Nights series continues with book 2 Our Lady of Mysterious Ailments out in March 2022.
Books by T.L. Huchu
Over to you
Thank you for reading my book review for The Library of the Dead by T. L. Huchu the first book in the Edinburgh Nights series!
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