Title: The Library of the Dead
Author: T.L. Huchu
Genre: Dystopian urban fantasy
Rating: 5 Stars
“When ghosts talk, she will listen . . .
Ropa dropped out of school to become a ghostalker – 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?“
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Occasionally, you’ll find a book that challenges everything you know about a genre, and makes it its own. This is one of those books.
Ropa is a nearly-fifteen-year-old school drop-out, who was forced to use her powers to see and speak to the dead to try and keep her family afloat. Her elderly grandmother and little sister depend on her to earn, yet they are always behind on rent payments, and food is scarce.
The Library of the Dead takes place in dystopian Scotland, lorded over by an apparently malevolent king, and a policing system that has fallen apart at the seams. Ropa only works for cash – out of necessity – but when she is approached by a spirit whose son is missing, Ropa reluctantly agrees to help. When her friend Jomo sneaks her into his “workplace by birthrite”, the library of the dead, Ropa ends up joining the ranks of the scholars there. Subsequently, she discovers there is a lot more to magic than she ever imagined.
Ropa is one of the best characters I’ve read in a long time. She’s so young, and has the weight of the world on her shoulders, but she handles it like a pro. She has had to grow up well before her time, and there are moments when I briefly glimpsed that yes, she is still a child, but those moments are few and far between. Ropa is adamant to continue her education despite dropping out of school to support her family, and listens to every audiobook she can get her hands on. Naturally, when she gets access to the library, she throws herself into learning everything she can there, too. I have a sneaking suspicion that Ropa is going to become a pretty renowned magic practitioner.
Plot-wise, this story was highly unpredictable, and trippy in places. Not to mention the absolutely terrifying moments that have you wishing you hadn’t started reading at night. This new Edinburgh is full of mystery and danger, and you feel this atmosphere so deeply, the immersion is that effective. It’s been a long time since I read a book that pulled me in this deep, and at times it was scary.
The magic system is truly unique in this book, as it is revealed to follow the laws of nature and physics. Naturally, this makes it a far more intricate system than most magic systems, and Ropa has trouble coming to terms with it in the beginning. I loved that Ropa’s Zimbabwean ancestry has also played a role in her magic, as her grandmother teaches her the basics, and it is certainly different from what she learns in the library. But a combination of both gets Ropa through the worst of her troubles.
Cliff notes here: this was an amazing, terrifying, entertaining, emotional, and immersive read, and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys a more cerebral urban fantasy book. The Library of the Dead is definitely a The Secret Library recommended read!
Admittedly, I got this book on sale for 99c and the kindle edition is now over $15 last time I checked, but I’d still say it’s worth it. Here’s the buy link for The Library of the Dead.
Thanks for reading! Did you know I also write urban fantasy books? Check them out here!