Sixth Sense meets Stranger Things in T. L. Huchu’s The Library of the Dead, a sharp contemporary fantasy following a precocious and cynical teen as she explores the shadowy magical underside of modern Edinburgh.
When a child goes missing in Edinburgh’s darkest streets, young Ropa investigates. She’ll need to call on Zimbabwean magic as well as her Scottish pragmatism to hunt down clues. But as shadows lengthen, will the hunter become the hunted?
When ghosts talk, she will listen…
Ropa dropped out of school to become a ghostalker. Now she 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 honor-bound to investigate. But what she learns will change her world.
She’ll dice with death (not part of her life plan…), discovering an occult library and a taste for hidden magic. She’ll also experience dark times. For Edinburgh hides a wealth of secrets, and Ropa’s gonna hunt them all down.
I got this book from Goldsboro Books as part of their ‘SFF Fellowship’ monthly club. Its beautiful, and the ribbon is so soft. My signed copy is number 533 of 1250 of the first edition, with sprayed edges. The edges are a map of Edinburgh. The cover reminds me very much of Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London books. I like them as well. Must get caught up on reading them.
The Rosie Synopsis
Ropa is a gobby, spunky teenager, the bread winner for her small, impoverished family in an Edinburgh devastated by some past disaster. Her grandmother is some sort of magician who knits, Ropa is a ghostalker who finds her way into the titular library, via her friend Jomo. She becomes a member of the library and casually starts to learn magic by reading. At the library, she meets Priya, a disabled healer with an adrenalin junkie streak.
Ropa makes her living taking messages between the dead and the living. One of the ghosts, Nicole, keeps bothering her about finding her missing son. Gran persuades Ropa to do the job for Nicole. This leads Ropa into a dangerous world, and answers the mystery of how there ‘national treasure’ looks so young.
I really enjoyed this book. It kept me entertained for all 330 pages.
Ropa and her family and friends are really defined, interesting characters. I want to know more about how her Gran came to knit a scarf for Callahan in the past. People at the Library know who Gran is, but no-one is telling Ropa.
Ropa carries the story, and as a first person narrative we only know what she knows, which means there are a lot of secrets yet to be revealed. I want to know what happens next. I enjoyed the differences in personality between Ropa and Priya, and their developing relationship. I can’t tell whether they’re flirting with each other or not. Jomo is going to be so disappointed if they are.
I liked how the complex history of Edinburgh and the changes that made it a dystopian hell are woven into the story, and want to know more. The snobbery of the magicians and scientists towards ‘allied trades’ is so reminiscent of 18th and 19th century medical doctors and their attitudes to non-doctor medical practitioners – surgeons, apothecaries and herbalists – I can only surmise that that is what the author is modelling them on?
There’s a lot of detail in this novel and the author has clearly worked out how the magic works in his world. I like that. It intrigues me, and makes me want to read the next book.
I love the fact that the disabled character in this book is a fully fleshed out human being, not a sad, pathetic character lamenting what she can’t do or desperately seeking a cure for her disability – that trope gets boring and is insulting. Thankfully these days disabled characters are more often getting to be in on the action.
I think this novel is an adult novel but it’s not dark or horrifying at all, so I think it would be suitable for teenagers too. The main character is a teenager as are her closest friends.
There’s a lot going on and the author has crammed it all in, so there are plenty of lines to follow for future stories but it could have been overwhelming for some readers. I hope the author explores a lot of the background information he has put into this first novel.
Excellent novel, highly entertaining and I can’t wait for the next one.