Review: The Library of the Dead by T.L. Huchu

‘A wind rises in the room with it’s squeal…as the spectre bears down and stops right in front of my face with a terrible howl.
“I said, are you done, sir?” I reach for my backpack and stand up. “This is quite the racket you’re making here.” ‘

***Content warnings for kidnapping, implied death of a parent, mentions of child prostitution and abuse, child abuse and poverty***

I HAVE RETURNED! Hello everyone! Hope you’re all well, I’m back with my first review in a while today. Apologies for the blog being silent, I did mention on Twitter taking time to step away for recovery from surgery so do follow me there if you feel like it. I’m now mostly healed and spent most of the recovery doing my favourite thing; reading. One such book I did finally get to is today’s excellent book, The Library of the Dead by T.L Huchu.

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?

Opening up a world of magic and adventure, The Library of the Dead by T. L. Huchu is the first book in the Edinburgh Nights series

When I picked this book up, I was just coming off a Rivers of London binge, having reread two books in the series back to back. So the mood was there for a new urban fantasy book. This was exactly what I needed. The Library of the Dead is the beginning of a new series set in a dystopian Edinburgh and follows one Ropa Moyo as she tries to uncover a mystery of missing children, provide for her family and maneuver the ghosts and spirits of her city.

This is a Scotland in ruins and we’re not entirely sure why. There is this constant feel of the city being in complete darkness as Ropa details the slums dotted around the cities along with other details that show something bad happened here. Electricity or power of any kind is very erratic, the National Health Service is long gone, the law keepers that are there extort and are more in the vein of an Anthony Burgess kind and food is limited further again. Ropa herself at age 14 is the sole provider for her household, which consists of her Grandmother, a younger sister named Izwi and a vixen named River.

I really felt the world building was a level of careful and impactful that really worked in the novels favour. We never really learn in this book what caused the city to become such a pit of despair but there are smaller elements littered into conversations between characters that really pique the interest. When we first meet Ropa she is called to a family home to expel a poltergeist. Bit outside her normal deal of delivering messages between ghosts and loved ones but a need for the money. The residents, the McGregors, mention they have contacted an Episcopalian Bishop previously and Ropa remarks internally it’s a bit of a half and half situation with them for banishing spirits. I’m so curious to what lead to ghosts being so common that the Church are known to be contacted and so well to be known as unreliable in places. Now I am a proud Irish woman and resident in Ireland but a better part of my childhood was surrounded by my father’s Scottish friends, cousins and fellow Celtic supporters. So the setting did thrill my heart a little that way. This Edinburgh is spooky and dark and I can’t wait to finally visit once vaccinated to feel the actual city for myself.

Ropa, a teenage ghost talker who dropped out of school, is a delight to read from. She’s very much that street wise, sarcastic gal I love to see in books. She’s also mentioned as having green dread locks so I must say, solidarity on the green. All that aside, there is always this question I find when you get younger protagonists like Ropa, if the story is automatically YA. This is distinctly an adult fantasy. Ropa is a flawed and tragic young girl in her own ways, nose to the grindstone constantly with her loved ones in mind. When she takes the job that leads to her looking into the magical force that is affecting children and changing them, there is a clear struggle with her need to make rent or do this ‘pro bono job’ for a ghost named Nicole. I really enjoyed the layers to her and how resilient she is, as sad as that is.

The magic system is something I really am intrigued by Ropa herself is of Zimbabwean descent and integrates that integrally into her own practice. When she later on discovers the Library and begins to try and learn Magic it has it’s own order that does actually remind me of the Rivers of London. While it’s not rooted in Newtonian principles as that used by Peter Grant et al, it does have a distinct mathematical style in line with that and that used in Lev Grossman’s The Magicians.

I usually find that first entries in fantasy series, particularly urban fantasy, don’t satisfy me fully. It’s generally a decision I find that lies between set up in the world building or plot for upcoming entries or a good mystery to maintain this one. The Library of the Dead truly didn’t lack for any of these. There is a point in the plot that is both a very dark instance but doesn’t ever detract from either the ongoing mystery Ropa is investigating or take away from the series as a potential. But I will say it’s definitely the part that scared me the most and really displayed how Huchu will likely toe the line of fantasy and horror as the series carries on. Overall the payoff has both consequence and pay off and really kept me reading.

I really loved this book and am just mad I didn’t read it in the winter but I would highly encourage you to get on this series if interested. It has far more to it than I even got to mention in the review and has a non white, girl protagonist in a genre that’s dripping with the opposite. She’s also hilarious. Thanks so much for bearing with me folks and the lovely wishes a lot of you sent while I was recovering. Happy reading to all!

★★★★/5

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