The Library of the Dead
reviewed by Carolyn Scott
In this debut novel and first of a new series (titled Edinburgh Nights), T.L. Huchu has imagined a near futuristic dystopian Edinburgh. An unspecified catastrophe has occurred, plunging the world into anarchy, chaos and disease. Recognisable remnants of civilisation remain including electricity in places, TV showing re-runs of old shows and mobile phones, but magic has also appeared. The wealthy have deserted the cities, forming enclaves on the coast, leaving the poor and homeless to fend for themselves.
With both her parents dead, fourteen-year-old Ropafazdo (Ropa) Moya, of Zimbabwean descent, has dropped out of school to care for her blind grandmother and younger sister. To pay the rent for their tiny caravan in the slums, she works hard as a licensed ghoststalker, carrying messages between newly dead ghosts and their loved ones using Zimbabwean music to communicate with the dead. She can also banish unruly ghosts who overstay their welcome. When a ghost tells her children are disappearing and some have returned as husks of themselves, she resolves to find out who is taking them.
With her feisty, cynical attitude Ropa makes for an excellent lead character. She has had to grow up fast and seems much older and more streetwise than her fourteen years. Her unquenchable thirst for knowledge drives her to convince old school friend Jomo to sneak her into the fabulous secret underground library of the dead, where he has a job. There she discovers an amazing repository of books on science and magic and unexpectedly finds herself a mentor. She also makes a new friend in clever, wheelchair bound Priya, who is prepared to help her search for the Midnight Milkman, who Ropa believes is at the heart of what is happening to the missing children.
This creative, atmospheric urban fantasy is quite dark but kept light by Ropa’s snarky wit, comments about old movies and humour in the situations she finds herself in. Edinburgh with its landmark buildings will be recognisable to those who know it, even as it gradually declines into urban decay. With its interesting characters, and fast paced plot, the novel will appeal to both YA and older readers. I can’t wait to revisit this series and find out more about the fascinating library of the dead and the system of magic in this new but familiar world.
With thanks to Macmillan-Tor/Forge and Netgalley for a copy to read. Publication expected June 1, 2021.