The publisher’s summary of ‘Library Of The Dead’ doesn’t do it justice. Doesn’t even seem to be describing the same book. Rather than tell you what it is, they want to tell you what it’s like, claiming that this is like ‘Rivers of London’, ‘Sixth Sense’ and ‘Stranger Things’ only set in contemporary Edinburgh and using Zimbabwean magic. Almost all of that is wrong and none of it acknowledges how original this book is.
‘The Library of the Dead’ isn’t set in contemporary Edinburgh. It’s set in an alternative, probably near-future, Edinburgh where the use of magic has been institutionalised, monetised and regulated, where there has been some sort of apocalyptic, probably climate-related disaster that has reshaped parts of the city and is set some years after the English King re-united Scotland with his Kingdom by force.
Where Peter Grant in ‘Rivers Of London’ is an adult leading a relatively comfortable life, with a career in the Met, backed up by the rich and powerful Folly and has (very) close relationships with the local River Godesses, Ropa is a teenage girl who has dropped out of school to earn enough from her ability to carry messages from the dead to the living to pay the rent on the crappy caravan she and her gran and her little sister live in and put food on the table. She spends a lot of her time dealing with the reality of poverty and has no one to back her up.
It’s true that she does use Zimbabwean magic, inherited from her gran, but that’s not all she uses and one of the unresolved mysteries running in the background is who Ropa’s father was and what other powers she might possess.
So, what ‘Library of the Dead’ really is is a piece of speculative fiction, set in a possble future Edinburgh where magic is taken for granted and owned by the people with money and no one cares what happens to people like Ropa and the other kids who are scratching a living within sight of Edinburgh’s grand architecture.
Ropa made the book for me. She’s not a primadonna. She barely has an education. She doesn’t seem to be magically powerful. She’s just keeping her head down and doing what she has to make ends meet and to prevent her gran and her sister being evicted because the rent hasn’t been paid. I liked the grim reality of that.
What changes Ropa’s life and creates the story for the first book in the series, is that Ropa, reluctantly af first, agrees to look into what is happening to some of the kids in her caravan park. They’ve been disappearing and coming back… empty.
Following up on this brings Ropa into conflict with powerful establishment-protected, magic-users, into contact with a secret Library for magic users in the heart of Edinburgh, and into the clutches of something truly evil that sees her as prey.
I admired the originality of the world that T. L Huchu has created. I’d like to go there again and learn more about it. Most of all, I liked Ropa for her loyalty to her family and her refusal to be ground down by the circumstance of her life or by the efforts of her enemies.
At first, I thought ‘The Library Of The Dead’ would by a Young Adult book. If it is, it’s a grim one and one that this reader – who hasn’t deserved being called young in a very long time – found very satisfying.
I thought there were places when the pacing was a little uneven but the key scenes in the story worked really well and the characters were believable and engaging.
It was a good start to a series I’d like to read more of.
I began reading ‘The Library Of The Dead’ as an audiobook but ended up sending it back and carrying on with the ebook. The narrator, Tinashe Warikandwa, was fine on the dialogue, although not that good at differentiating character voices, but once there’s any description of anything abstract, she seemed to lose touch with the rhythm of the prose.
Click on the SoundCloud link to hear a sample. Your experience may be different to mine.