Book Review: The Library of the Dead by T.L. Huchu
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars
Series: Book 1 of Edinburgh Nights
Publisher: Tor Books (June 1, 2021)
Length: 336 pages
The opening volume of a new series called Edinburgh Nights by T.L. Huchu, The Library of the Dead opens in the titular city, the home of our protagonist, 14-year-old Ropa Moyo. At a young age, she dropped out of school to look after her beloved grandmother and her sister Izwi, scraping out a living as a “ghostalker”—someone who can communicate with the dead. Mostly, this involves getting paid to help folks deliver messages to their dearly departed, but then one night, Ropa encounters a recently deceased spirit who makes her rethink everything she thought she knew.
Someone has been targeting and bewitching local children, warns the ghosts of Edinburgh, and Ropa believes this must be the work of some dark and powerful magic. Nicola is one of these ghosts who has come to our protagonist with a plea to help find her son Oliver, and at first, Ropa is reluctant to investigate until she learns of the horrible thing that happens to the missing children. Determined to find answers, she recruits the help of her friend Jomo, whose father works at the mysterious occult research institute known as the Library of the Dead. In its labyrinthine depths, Ropa gains access to a wealth of hidden magical knowledge and learns more about what it means to be a ghostalker. But as the disturbing attacks continue, will it be enough to help her uncover the truth?
The Library of the Dead was somewhat unexpected, in both good ways and bad. First, the positives: I enjoyed the mystery aspect of the plot, as well as the mix of modern real-world and paranormal elements. As well, the overall mood was delectably eerie and haunting, as befitting a ghost story. This novel was also a fabulous concoction of culture, bringing together Scottish tradition with the Zimbabwean heritage of our protagonist and her family. And speaking of Ropa, she’s a delightful teenage girl, full of charisma and courage, even if all that energy sometimes comes though as attitude and sass. That said, her voice is both a unique and refreshing addition to shake up the urban paranormal genre.
But now, for what I thought was the not-so-great—and most of these aren’t true negatives, per se, just aspects which I thought could have been improved. First and foremost, my initial draw to this novel was the promise of its eponymous library, but in practice, we don’t actually get to see much of it at all, which was slightly disappointing. I also wish we could have seen more of Edinburgh. While it’s true the author did a wonderful job creating the atmosphere, at times the plot felt too fast-paced and focused to its detriment. I would have liked to see more of the city, taken some time to indulge in the richness of its history and the beauty (and sometimes grimness) of the details, but it was unfortunately not to be.
To be fair though, Ropa was not the kind of protagonist to dally, and the snappy and single-minded way in which the story moved was admittedly in keeping with her personality. Still, it prevented me from fully connecting with her character or with the story. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy myself because I did, but it was definitely not at the deeper level I’d hoped for. It took me a while to feel close to Ropa, or to care about what was actually happening in the plot. And at the end of the day, the story was entertaining but not anything too new or groundbreaking. More world-building (especially when it came to the library) or character relationship development might have helped to flesh things out, because despite the handful of moments showing genuine inventiveness and creativity, this still felt like a variation of something I’ve seen many times before.
All in all, The Library of the Dead was a decent solid read, though it probably could have been more. It might be worth checking out if the character of Ropa intrigues you or if you’re drawn to the setting of Edinburgh, but with the paranormal mystery plot taking center stage, just don’t expect the library to have much of a starring role. I’ll probably continue the series, but I think a lot will also depend on how much the character and world gets developed in the next book.