A Dead Good Read.

Ghosts? Libraries? Edinburgh? Sign me up.

T. L. Huchu’s The Library of the Dead is a clever contemporary fantasy that has all of these things–and much more.

In a post-catastrophic Edinburgh, we meet fourteen-year-old Ropa Moya. Ropa is a ghost talker. For a fee, she uses Zimbabwean magic and a traditional musical instrument called a mbira (pronounced m-BEE-ra), to relay messages between the living and the dead–messages that usually run the mundane gamut between unrequited love, squabbles over wills, and family hauntings…Usually.

The tomb of David Hume in the Old Calton Burial Ground, Edinburgh.
Photo credit: gazpachomonk Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Until the ghost of a recently dead mother appears, pleading with Ropa to save her young son, Oliver.

Ropa, brimming with sharp intelligence and street smart attitude, would love to help, but the ghost can’t pay. And Ropa really needs paying gigs so that she can take care of her ailing grandmother and provide her little sister with the kinds of opportunities that she never had.

But she soon discovers that Ollie is not the only child who has gone missing. Others have disappeared, only to mysteriously return as zombie-like hollowed-out husks of their former selves (and let me tell you, the imagery of these children is chilling).

The National Monument, Edinburgh.
Photo credit: shilmar on Pixabay

Determined to save Ollie before he meets the same fate as the returned children–or worse–Ropa enlists the help of her childhood friend Jomo, who just happens to have access to a mysterious library of magic located under Calton Hill between the tomb of David Hume in the Old Calton Burial Ground and the National Monument.

The world-building in The Library of the Dead is a terrific blend of Scottish and Zimbabwean culture and magic, and a setting that manages to combine past, present, and post-catastrophic future Edinburgh.

If you’ve ever been to Edinburgh, then you’ll know what I mean when I tell you that the image of Waverley Station, almost completely submerged by the “New Loch,” will stay with you long after you reach the last page.

All of the characters are interesting and well-developed, from Ropa’s wise and loving grandmother, to her wheelchair daredevil friend, Priya. But at the centre is Ropa–with her green dreadlocks and black lipstick–a survivor, facing desperate living conditions and a horrific enemy, with courage, grit, compassion, and grace.

In places, this book is atmospheric and intense in a way that felt rather reminscent of Clive Barker’s The Thief of Always.

The Library of the Dead is the first book in T. L. Huchu’s Edinburgh Nights series. It was published by Tor Books in 2021. If anyone can tell me who created the amazing cover art, please drop it in the comments!

The Mbira is one of a family of musical instruments traditional to the Shona people of Zimbabwe.