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.
Big thank you to Tor UK for the review copy of The Library of the Dead. I can confirm all thoughts and opinions are my own.
I had high expectations going into this book, especially with it being compared to The Rivers of London series which I love and, whilst I see the similarities in some ways, there were some parts of this book that just made it fall a little flat for me, and made it a like, not love read. Ropa is a fantastic character and a really different perspective to read from. I will admit to being a little shocked when I realised she was only 15, especially when this is being sold as a adult book but, although she is 15, she is old beyond her years after having to quit school and take jobs to keep a roof over her grandma and sisters heads. Luckily magic runs in her family and she makes her money ferrying messages from the dead to their loved ones, or enemies depending on the ghost. She is street wise and savvy in so many ways, and in others she is just a 15 year old girl with too much weight on her shoulders. She starts getting followed by a ghost desperately looking for her son who went missing before she died, but the woman can’t pay and Ropa doesn’t do freebies so fobs her off until her grandma tells her there are more important things in life than money. The more Ropa looks into the boys disappearance, the stranger things get until she is in well over her head, and will have to rely on friends old and new if she is to make it out alive.
There are a multitude of side characters from Ropa’s Grandma and younger sister Izwi, Jomo her only friend from school and the person who introduces her to the Library, Priya a fellow magician from the library who looks into the child disappearances with Ropa, as well as multiple people from Ropa’s life old and present and members of the Library of the Dead. With this being the first in the series, it focused more on a few leaving others not as well developed but the author will have plenty of time to do that in the sequels.
One of the things I loved about this book was the setting. Edinburgh is one of my favourite cities and having visited it multiple times, I had no trouble following Ropa on her adventures being able to picture the streets and sights in my head. That being said, it’s not necessarily set in the Edinburgh I know and love, but more a post apocalyptic one. It took me a minute when reading to get to grasp with ‘when’ the book was set as the language was modern and yet the descriptions were almost a throwback. I do feel like this could have been described a little better and would have liked a more in depth understanding of the ‘world’ as it is now and why it is the way it is.
You all know me and folklore and I really enjoyed seeing the author delve into Zimbabwean magic and folklore. Ropa’s skill at contacting and talking to ghosts comes from using music and different musical instruments to create a kind of beat that links up with the specific ghost, allowing them to communicate with Ropa to pass on their message. Ropa’s magic is really well built and I loved hearing her talk about the different musicians/musical instruments she uses, and why she picks certain ones for certain ghosts. The magic of the Library was a different story. From the description and title of the book, I expected the Library to play a much bigger part than it did. The parts where it was involved felt a little rushed and undeveloped, meaning you struggled to get invested in that particular story line.
If I’m being honest, I felt that there were too many story lines. From the Libary, Ropa’s ghost talking and her hunt for the missing children, the author chopped and changed between the plot lines at random intervals… usually just when you were getting invested/interested… which made the pacing of the story seem really sporadic. This meant that I struggled to pick the book up, especially if I had put it down after a switch in story line. I feel it would have been better if it were a little longer and if the author had given the different plot lines more chance to develop.
There were a few WTF moments, some good and others that came out of nowhere, and not in the good way. Because the magic system wasn’t well developed some of it just seemed weird, like it wasn’t needed, even though you know it was pivotal to the authors plot, it just fit nowhere in within the story. Despite all these minus points, I did really enjoy the book. Mainly I think because of Ropa’s unique voice and the chance to delve into Zimbabwean folklore and magic. I will definitely be picking up the second book, if only to find out if the author develops the Library and it’s magic a little more.