By: T. L. Huchu
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Fourteen-year-old girl who speaks to ghosts, check. A mystery of disappearing children, check. A little horror, check. A little dystopian, check. Magic, check. Fantasy, check. The Library of the Dead has a bit of many genres woven into a suspenseful page turning novel. T. L. Huchu beautifully balances all of these elements, keeping the reader guessing as to what comes next. It is told in the first-person narrative of Ropa. She is a smart, sassy ghost talker, earning her money ferreting messages from the dead to their loved ones. The story takes place in a future version of Edinburgh, Scotland. It was very clever that Mr. Huchu does not divulge to the reader how far into the future it is. Clearly something has happened, but we are never quite sure what. It made the book so much more interesting as we try to figure out what the timeline is and it definitely added to the suspense of the book. The prose is so well crafted, weaving all of the elements together perfectly. For example, Ropa communicates with the dead by using a mbira, Zimbabwean instrument of metal keys on a thick piece of wood. She must find the correct tune on her mbira for the “deados,” as she calls them, to speak her in their true form. The Library of the Dead is a unique, imaginative, suspenseful novel that will keep you guessing and engaged from the first page.
Summary (from NetGalley)
Ropa dropped out of school to become a ghostalker – and they sure do love to talk. Now she speaks to Edinburgh’s dead, carrying messages to those they left behind. 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 strength. It’s on Ropa’s patch, so she feels honor-bound to investigate. But what she learns will rock her world.
Ropa will dice with death as she calls on Zimbabwean magic and Scottish pragmatism to hunt down clues. And although underground Edinburgh hides a wealth of dark secrets, she also discovers an occult library, a magical mentor and some unexpected allies.
Yet as shadows lengthen, will the hunter become the hunted?
The World of Library of the Dead
As mentioned, the book takes place sometime in the future in Edenborough. Mr. Huchu never reveals when exactly it is. It is through Ropa that the reader guesses it is. Her descriptions of what Edenborough “used to be like” and where landmarks once were, are our clues. She talks of the catastrophe, but again, we are not privy to what it is and Ropa herself is not sure. We are painted with a vivid picture of a city with a clear demarcation of rich and poor. The poor live and survive by whatever means they have. Ropa lives in a motor home park with her grandmother and her sister.
The Library of the Dead is under the city. There is housed the ancient books that deal with magic and the dead. It is here that Ropa starts to train in the use of magic. I was so taken in with his explanation that magic comes from science, being a scientist myself. He writes about magic coming from entropy, and frankly, explains in a way that I wish I had used to explain to my students. Magic and science-it was brilliant.
Ropa: How can you not love Ropa? At fourteen, she seems much older than she is, more than likely a product of her taking care of her sister and grandmother. While she seems older, we do catch the quick and rash behavior of a typical 14-year-old. She is a very real and well-developed character. I loved Ropa, speaking in her Scottish street brogue to the “deados” and using this mbira, which she plays perfectly, to speak to the dead. The juxtaposition of Ropa’s modern language with the ancient instrument is storytelling at it’s finest.
While she is poor and left school, she is very smart. She understands the magic books she reads and the property of entropy, and the connection between science and magic. Ropa is always listening to books on her phone while she does her work. Only one ear bud, though. Always have to have one ear open.
Grandma: It’s clear that Ropa gets her abilities from her grandmother. In a flashback scene, we see Ropa recalling a trip she took with her grandmother to banish a ghost. While her sight is poor, she sees more than we think. She spends her days in the camper they share knitting. Ropa’s grandmother is warm and kind. She’s everyone’s grandma and a character we can all relate too.
Jomo & Priya: Jomo is Ropa’s best friend and works at the Library. Priya does as well and fast becomes good friends with Ropa. It is Priya who starts to teach the basics of magic to Ropa. The basic is summoning fire. They both round out Ropa’s character and help her to solve the mystery of the missing children
The Library of the Dead is a beautifully written, unique fantasy that has a bit of several genres in a suspenseful novel that will have you hooked from the first page. It has so many unique elements, from the mbira tuning to the dead to the mysterious dystopian-like setting of Edinburgh. There are genuinely scary parts, the mystery of the disappearing children will keep you in suspense, and there are twists and turn you will not anticipate. I could not put down this book-it was so engrossing. The Library of the Dead is a brilliant book that I highly recommend. I eagerly await the next book in this series.