Book Review: THE LIBRARY OF THE DEAD by T. L. Huchu

I received a review copy from the publicity team in exchange for an honest review. It has not affected my opinions.

Title in white on black above greenish cityscape
Genre: Contemporary Fantasy
Age Range: Adult
Star Rating: 3.5 stars
Series: yes - first book

Synopsis:

Book cover for THE LIBRARY OF THE DEAD: title in white on black with green-blue street map above a cityscape

When ghosts talk, she will listen . . .

Ropa dropped out of school to become a ghost talker – 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?

Synopsist taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


Review:

THE LIBRARY OF THE DEAD takes places in a near future world that’s pretty dystopia but in a horribly realistic way. We have to fit the pieces together from hints, but there’s clearly been a disaster (probably at least partially climate) and so Edinburgh is over populated. There’s a king on the throne, and something happened that means showing loyalty in a call and response with random people on the street is normal. Not sure if England and Scotland are still a union or not.

It’s that sort of “yeah, this is believable and almost touchable” dystopia world, rather than the far future sort from the Hunger Games etc. It was a very fun world, and fit the incredibly voicy narrator perfectly.

However, the book is definitely a fantasy (and I’d probably say “contemporary fantasy” is an easier subgenre than “fantasy in a near-future dystopia!”) The ghosts and other-worldly elements put it squarely in fantasy for me – dystopia has no magic, just technology in my book. Ghosts wandering cities and people trying to act as go-betweens is a tale as old as time, but it really is the narrator that sells it in THE LIBRARY OF THE DEAD.

Ropa is a no-nonsense grifter, just trying to make a living. And the world keeps throwing problems in her path. She is so done with everything, and that comes across perfectly.

The book starts quite slowly, without a main plot pulling it forward for several chapters, as it takes Ropa a while to decide to investigate. She just goes on with life, trying to get money, for probably a quarter of the book before deciding to get involved. The pace picked up then, but it did take until there for me to really get into it, as I need a plot goal to invest.

And I was rather confused by the ending – and the house sequence. The magic is never deeply explained, which felt a bit like the point, but it did mean that all these elements showing up (particularly that house) had no grounding in the world. It felt as if I’d been transported to another book for that section.

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