Book Review: The Library of the Dead

T. L. Huchu

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

published: 18th March 2021
spoilers? nope


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.

The thing about the dead is that you can never bring them back.

Galley provided by publisher

I first heard about this book from Ben Aaronovitch and, because Rivers of London is one of my favourite series, and this sounded very much in a similar vein, of course I had to pick it up. And, really, if you like urban paranormal fantasy, then this book is going to be it for you. It is, in turns, a brilliantly compelling mystery, laugh out loud funny, and absolutely terrifying (although this last may be because I am very easily scared).

The Library of the Dead follows Ropa, a ghosttalker, who is asked to investigate the disappearance of a boy by his mother’s ghost. In doing so, she finds that someone in Edinburgh is bewitching children, for some unknown reason, and that she is the only person who cares enough to find out why.

What hooks you first off with this book is the voice of the narrator. Ropa has such a distinct and fun narration style you won’t want to put the book down. But it’s not just her voice that catches you — she is just an excellent protagonist all round. You know exactly what drives her and why, and you can’t help but sympathise with her so easily.

And that distinctness is also present in the surrounding cast, enhanced by Ropa’s — often irreverent — commentary. Each dynamic presents something new, and there are some, which you only get hints of in this book, that you just need to know more about (Ropa and Callander for one. I’m a massive fan of the reluctant mentor trope).

On top of this, you have a fast, action-packed plot (read it for the milk float chase scene!!) that twists and turns and keeps you on your toes. It is, to be honest, the perfect book for me (if a little gorier than I was anticipating). And, when it’s over, it leaves you with a burning desire to know just what happens next, because there’s still more questions to be answered.

All of which to say, of course, that if you don’t pick this book up when it comes out in 2021, you’re really going to be missing out.

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