I received an uncorrected proof copy of The Library of the Dead in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to T.L. Huchu and Tor Books.
The Library of the Dead is the first entry in the Edinburgh Nights series. Throughout the book, we follow a 14-year-old dreadlocked punkish youth called Ropa. Ropa works as a ghostalker, using her unique skills and her mbira (an African musical instrument) to converse with the many deceased of this alternative Edinburgh. Passing messages from the dead to the living and banishing unruly spectres are just a few of the tasks that would appear on a professional ghostalker’s CV. She has to get paid for such duties after all as her caravan’s rent, where she lives with her gran, sister and her pet fox, doesn’t come cheap.
I was particularly impressed with Ropa’s voice as the MC. Her thoughts and feelings are expressed in the first person present tense and, although it took me a little while to get used to this style, I found it kooky and a joy to read. Ropa’s a witty and likeable protagonist who often uses Scottish dialect and slang in a similar way to the style that charmed me as a youth when I would read Oor Wullie comics. Ropa being young, energetic and using some youth-speak makes her an endearing lead to follow.
The Library of the Dead features dark themes, gruesome happenings, otherworldly monsters, and supernatural horrors yet, because of Ropa; I believe that it could be enjoyed by both adult and YA readers alike.
The action takes place in an alternate Edinburgh that features slums, violence, poverty, and magic. It is set after an event known as the catastrophe and although it is hinted at that this could be slightly in the future, the whole atmosphere has an almost 80’s vibe to it, but with mobile phones.
With the paranormal, the unknown, and magic lurking within the novel, there are also other planes of existence that can be frequented by those with the necessary skillset. One of these is known as the EveryThere which has a definite Stranger Things’ Upside Down feel to it. There are some moments that take place there that stood out in my mind but I am hoping to see more of it in future books. It’s a distorted and stifling place where time and gravity don’t exist and it is full of shuffling forlorn spirits and guardian demons know as Voykors. Another standout section in this well-crafted and sometimes warped world is later on in the novel. It’s a great segment that has trippy modern-day Grimm fairy tale feel to it and introduces the incredibly creepy sounding Midnight Milkman. The titular Library of the Dead is pretty intriguing too and in the next books, I want to find out more regarding what happens there and the exclusive individuals who frequent the establishment.
My reading experience with The Library of the Dead was mostly positive. After I got used to the writing style I found that I really enjoyed the tale’s feel. One minor criticism I have is that I found some of the chapters at the beginning, when the novel’s groundwork was being set, to be a bit stuttering and plodding and I wasn’t completely “all in” until the 90-page mark.
To conclude, I’ll say that The Library of the Dead is an enjoyable dark urban fantasy tale that is set in a nicely depicted alternate Edinburgh, with a great lead character and a vibrant supporting cast. To say that this is a debut release though means that a lot of plaudits should go to Huchu here for what he’s accomplished. There are many great elements to this novel which I’ve mentioned throughout the review but it doesn’t quite live up to the lofty heights of the concept and what the blurb presents the book as. The Library of the Dead works perfectly as a standalone with everything wrapping up expertly with enough intriguing hints and ideas of what is to come in the follow-up. Will I continue reading this series? Yes, probably. Would I recommend this book? Yes, I would as I give it a well-earned 7/10 rating.