To end 2020 with, I have decided to do an audiobook mini review roundup. A couple of months ago Netgalley started letting us read our ARCs as audiobooks, which is amazing. So have a read to see if one of these might be for you!
The Doors of Eden by Adrian Tchaikovsky (Tor, 20/08/2020) is a solid mix of fantasy and science fiction with parallel worlds. Lee and Mal went to explore rumours of monsters in a moor, but only Lee came back. Now, four years later, she is drawn in to a story bigger than anything she ever expected. Another strand of the story focuses on Kay Amal Khan, a trans physicist who is the only one who can help an alien race and is abducted. The Doors of Eden includes six or so points of view in an epic story that spans multiple worlds. It is interesting, smart and well-researched. However I had issues connecting to the story and characters, which led to me not enjoying this one as much as I’d hoped. I think it’s a very good book, though a bit too much on the hard science fiction side for me personally. Add it to Goodreads here, and order a hard copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link) or find the audiobook from Audible here.
The Key To Fear by Kristin Cast (Head of Zeus, 05/11/2020) is set in a world that has been ravaged by a virus, leaving society ruled by the Key. Much like in 2020, people in this story are not allowed to touch or kiss and live according to strict rules. It was disconcerting to listen to a story of a pandemic while being in the middle of a pandemic ourselves. I didn’t particularly enjoy the implications of this story, where years after the disease itself ravaged the population they still live under the thumb of sanctions. While the story didn’t necessarily focus on this, I could not stop my mind from wandering in these directions while listening. It is not the right book if you are anxious in terms of where society is heading and struggle with the changes brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. Thus, I couldn’t enjoy the story of young love, rebellion and defiance that I would have ordinarily enjoyed much more. Find The Key To Fear on Goodreads here, and order a hardcopy from Bookshop here (affiliate link) or the audio from Audible here.
Secrets of the Starcrossed by Clara O’Connor (One More Chapter, 21/01/2021) is a tale of young love in a world where the Roman Empire never fell and still dominates part of the UK. Cassandra, Devyn and Marcus live in Londinium, which is cut off from the parts of the country still under Celtic rule, and Britons are very much second class humans compared to citizens of the Empire. It’s an enjoyable story, though a bit basic and predictable. A girl falls in love with a mysterious boy while betrothed to another and at the same time finds out that most of her life so far has been a lie. Secrets of the Starcrossed makes heavy use of tropes to tell its tale of woe and resistance. But ultimately, there isn’t much special to this YA/adult crossover fantasy. Find it on Goodreads here, and order a hardcopy from Bookshop here (affiliate link) or pre-order the audio from Audible here.
Somehow I ended up reading more in 2020 than I ever have before (at least as far as I can remember). I aimed to read around 200 books as usual, and now, close to the very end of the year I’m aiming to hit 365 books read, one for each day of the year. Only a handful left to go! Among all these books were a lot of wonderful books, and I have chosen just three each for the various categories I read in. All the books in this post were five star reads that have stood out and I would unreservedly recommend (and order of naming is not to indicate order of preference).
In terms of Adult SFF, my absolute favourite books this year were Sistersong, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue and The Once and Future Witches. I got to review all three of these early, and damn, it was hard to wait until everyone else had the opportunity to read them so I had people go gush over them. The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow is a historical tale of suffragettes crossed with witchcraft. It is wonderfully written and features three sisters, utterly different but united in their struggle to persevere against the patriarchy. I reviewed it here, and you can order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab speaks of isolation and depression and how they effect our lives and personalities through the story of a girl who makes a deal with a devil for eternal life – only to have everyone she encounters forget her immediately. This book spoke to me on a level few books ever have and I love it with my whole heart. I have loved all of Schwab’s work, but this is the best one to date. Fantasy for people who like literary tales and the most amazing characters. See my review here, and order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
The third book on this list, Sistersong by Lucy Holland is not actually out until April, but I was able to read an ARC of this haunting tale. My review isn’t written yet (I’m struggling to get past THIS BOOK IS AMAZING AND YOU NEED IT), but should be on Grimdark Magazine soon. Sistersong is the story of three siblings, retelling the ‘Twa Sisters’ folk ballad. It is set in a late antique Britain just before the coming of the Saxons, and tells of the society and struggles encountered by high-born women (and trans men – it features a character who we would call transmasculine today). Pre-order it from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
In terms of YA, the three books I loved most have one thing in common: they are all retellings in one way or another. Legendborn, These Violent Delights and Dark and Deepest Red are uttely different, but I love all of them unreservedly. These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong is a reinterpretation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet set in 1920s Shanghai. Constantly in conversation with the famous play, These Violent Delights surpasses its source material by weaving a tale of colonialism, racial tension and supernatural plague with the memorable characters based on Romeo and Juliet, accompanied by a host of side characters that have just as much personality. Check out my review here, and order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
I spent much of 2020 reading books based on medieval legends. But Legendborn is the one Arthurian-inspired novel that truly stood out from the crop. I loved this contemporary YA fantasy so much. Set on a university campus and featuring a heroine going go college early, Tracy Deonn reimagines the Knights of the Round Table as a supernatural secret society. Mixed in with are themes of Black Girl Magic, slavery and racism in the US. My review’s here, and you can order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore was one of the first books I read in 2020 and it has stayed on my mind throughout the year. Combining the Strasbourg Dancing Plague of the early 16th century with the modern story of a girl and magical shoes, McLemore manages to write a near-perfect book (yes, Anna-Marie McLemore meets medieval legend is catnip for Fab). As all their books, Dark and Deepest Red features lyrical writing, queer characters and a Latinx twist. Order yourself a copy from Blackwell’s here.
The three children’s book I chose are very different from each other, but I fell in love with all of them. A Kind of Spark, Orion Lost and The House of Hidden Wonders show the breadth of amazing children’s books currently being published in the UK. Orion Lost by Alastair Chisholm is the first middle grade space sci-fi I’ve read and it was wonderful. Featuring a rag-tag crew, a lot of failure and a compelling narrative, this one snuck into my heart. I love it when characters are challenged and forced to learn from their mistakes, and that is definitely the case here. Get a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll is high up on my list of favourite middle grade books I’ve ever read. Featuring an own-voices autistic girl fighting for her goals, I feel like this should be required reading for everyone. Eleven year old Addie finds out about historic witch prosecutions in her Scottish town, and feeling a kinship with these women persecuted for being different, decides that she wants to dedicate a memorial to them. READ IT! See my full review here, and order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
The House of Hidden Wonders by Sharon Gosling is also set in Scotland, however, this is a historical detective story (including a young Sherlock Holmes!). Addressing disability, this story also deals with difference and acceptance, and focuses on found family. I loved this charming and thrilling story and highly recommend it. Read my full review here, and order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
This list wouldn’t be complete without some graphic novels/mangas! My favourites this year were Vinland Saga, Mooncakes and The Daughters of Ys. Vinland Saga by Yakoto Mukimura was my re-introduction to the world of Anime and Manga – a good friend watched the Anime series with me, combining my love for Viking legend with her passion for visual story telling. This (long-running) manga series is the story of Thorfinn, a young boy who loses his father and is raised as a warrior among enemies. The narrative follows King Canute and the Vikings in England – that’s about as far as I’ve gotten, I’ve only read the first five volumes. I can’t wait to read more of my favourite disaster boy next year! Order a copy of the first volume from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
The Daughters of Ys by M.T. Anderson and Jo Rioux is based on a Breton folktale, tells a wonderfully dark story and has the most amazing art. I randomly picked this up in a shop and ended up loving it so much. Two royal sisters, Rozenn and Dahut both fight for their city in their own ways, and suitors to the princess mysteriously disappear in a city protected by magical walls… Order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
Last on this list is the book that reignited my love for graphic novels this year: Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu. This adorable queer YA fantasy about werewolves, friendship and first love got me out of a massive reading slump during the first lockdown and I can’t rave about it enough. It is wonderful and cute and makes life better. Get a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
I’ve really been spoiled by the excellent books I’ve gotten to read recently, and The Boy I Am by K.L. Kettle is no exception. A dystopian YA turning gender roles around and presenting a society far from our own and still hauntingly close. The Boy I Am hits home and brings the genre back for the 2020s.
Thank you to Charlie and Little Tiger for sending me a review copy of this wonderful book. All opinions are my own.
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
PUBLICATION DATE: 07/01/21
SUMMARY: They say we’re dangerous. But we’re not that different.
Jude is running out of time. Once a year, lucky young men in the House of Boys are auctioned to the female elite. But if Jude fails to be selected before he turns seventeen, a future deep underground in the mines awaits.
Yet ever since the death of his best friend at the hands of the all-powerful Chancellor, Jude has been desperate to escape the path set out for him. Finding himself entangled in a plot to assassinate the Chancellor, he finally has a chance to avenge his friend and win his freedom. But at what price? (from Little Tiger)
OPINIONS: The Boy I Am is a compelling dystopian tale. It features a world not all that dissimilar to our own, but where women have all the power. Centering Jude, a young man trying to change things, this story is full of twists and great characters. I really enjoyed reading it and immersing myself in the worldbuilding. It is reminiscent of classics such as The Handmaid’s Tale and reminded me a bit of the early 2010s dystopia boom – it was wonderful to go back in time to when life was simpler.
The Boy I Am is well-written and fast-paced. There is always something happening, pulling the reader into the plot. Jude, Ro and Walker are great characters to lead the story, and their journeys show that things are not always as simple as they seem. It is interesting to see gender dynamics turned on their head, though I wish that it had been more nuanced than merely flipping it. Nevertheless, it is a story asking many questions and not necessarily providing the reader with a simple answer. Friendship, revolution and to an extent, emotional abuse are all themes discussed with nuance in The Boy I Am, hinting that there might be more depth to the issues raised than visible on the surface of the story.
I didn’t know quite what to expect when I picked up Unchosen by Katharyn Blair. I thought it might be a fluffy YA dystopia, but it is so much more. The characters live in a world ravaged by a pandemic, and Charlotte struggles with the changed world and feeling invisible next to the people in her life that always stand out. And the story spoke to me. I devoured this book and loved it so much.
Thank you to Harper360YA for sending me an ARC. All opinions are my own.
STAR RATING: 4.5/5 ✶
PUBLICATION DATE: 26/01/21
SUMMARY: For Charlotte Holloway, the world ended twice.
The first was when her childhood crush, Dean, fell in love—with her older sister.
The second was when the Crimson, a curse spread through eye contact, turned the majority of humanity into flesh-eating monsters.
Neither end of the world changed Charlotte. She’s still in the shadows of her siblings. Her popular older sister, Harlow, now commands forces of survivors. And her talented younger sister, Vanessa, is the Chosen One—who, legend has it, can end the curse.
When their settlement is raided by those seeking the Chosen One, Charlotte makes a reckless decision to save Vanessa: she takes her place as prisoner.
The word spreads across the seven seas—the Chosen One has been found.
But when Dean’s life is threatened and a resistance looms on the horizon, the lie keeping Charlotte alive begins to unravel. She’ll have to break free, forge new bonds, and choose her own destiny if she has any hope of saving her sisters, her love, and maybe even the world.
Because sometimes the end is just a new beginning. (from Katherine Tegen Books)
OPINIONS: Unchosen is simply a great book. It features a compelling narrative, gallows humour, identifiable characters… and a fierce Pirate lady. While it is initially unsettling to read a book set in a pandemic of sorts, it soon becomes clear that this world is far more complex than that and utterly different to our own situation. The state of the world is handled with humour and anxiety is addressed in a way that resonated strongly with me. It is a feminist tale for all those who have felt invisible.
Charlotte, the often overlooked middle sister, is the heroine of Unchosen. Feeling less-than next to her sisters, a series of circumstances lead to her choosing herself and so playing with the ‘chosen one’ trope. She undergoes copious amounts of growth, developing confidence and overcoming issues that have been blocking her. She deals with what reads like PTSD and anxiety in a world without therapists, and I feel I have learned more about myself and how to deal with stress situations through Unchosen.
One of my favourite aspects of Unchosen was the dynamics between Charlotte and her sisters as well as with Seth. Nuanced relationships are amazing to read and like catnip for me. I also loved the connection to in-universe mythology and history through the cursed Pirate queen, and the feminist resolution to the story. This is truly a georgeous fantasy novel about choosing your own destiny that needs more attention.
Today’s review is brought to you courtesy of Midas PR and Audible UK: The Far Wild by Alex Knight. This is an Audible Exclusive – so only available as an audiobook. I love this concept of writing straight for audio, especially in this year of insanity, I think I and many others have been relying on a variety of mediums to get our reading fix in.
Thank you to Amber Choudhary and Audible for the advance audio of The Far Wild, as usual all opinions are my own.
STAR RATING: 3/5 ✶
PUBLICATION DATE: 03/12/20
SUMMARY: An expedition gone awry.
Suni Koudounas is enamoured with the wonders — and dangers — of the Far Wild. As a naturalist’s apprentice, she’s studied every book and expedition report about the miraculous wilderness. But when her mentor goes missing on expedition, Suni sets aside the Far Wild of ink and paper to venture after him into the primordial jungle.
A missing skyship.
As the empire’s most beloved adventurer — or most successful raconteur — Senesio Suleiman Nicolaou doesn’t want much. Wealth beyond measure, fame beyond reason and a small kingdom somewhere warm should be about enough. When news of the rescue mission reaches him, Senesio knows there’s no better opportunity to add to his living legend.
The most dangerous wilderness known to man.
With unexpected enemies above and monstrous predators in the jungles below, it’s up to Suni, Senesio and their companions to uncover the truth of what’s happening in the Far Wild. It’s a revelation that will shake the empire to its core and reshape the lives of all involved — assuming, of course, they don’t all get eaten first. (from Audible)
OPINIONS: As this is audiobook original, it was written especially for audio and performed as such. At times, the narration is almost reminiscent of an audio play rather than just a book read aloud. It has a full cast of narrators, being read by Stephanie Lane, Carlyss Peer and Peter Kenny for the different perspectives. Sadly I found Peter Kenny’s voice grating, and the narration in general to be too dramatic, which lead to me tuning out at times. I am quite particular when it comes to narrators, and found that this style and especially the male voice did not work for me. If you are intrigued by the synopsis, do make sure to listen to a sample first to ensure that it does work for you!
In terms of the content of The Far Wild, I loved the world. Reminiscent of a fantasy version of Jurassic Park, the Far Wild is a remote and dangerous region, with huge beasts threatening anyone who dares explore there. (Just look at the amazing illustration the publisher sent me to accompany my review!) That, combined with the university framing of the story made me enjoy the world-building a lot even if I struggled with the narration. Led by two main characters, Suni, an apprentice naturalist, and Senesio, an explorer who is very assured of his own worth, The Far Wild tells a compelling story of betrayal, discovery and personal growth. The story is fast paced and interesting, though I didn’t connect to the characters as much as I would have liked. Senesio, as an arrogant male, was rather annoying to me, reminding me of issues in the current world, leading my thoughts to wander. However, he did provide a great counterpoint to the naive and enthusiastic Suni.
If you are looking for a thrilling adventure I do recommend you check out a sample of The Far Wild. While the narration might not be everyone’s cup of tea, the story is fun and entertaining. Add it to Goodreads here, and order the audio from Audible here.
You had the big yearly overview, now it’s time to talk about a few books that I’m specifically excited for in January! 2021 is going to be an excellent year for book releases – almost everything I’ve read coming out next year has been amazing and I can’t wait to dive into more. These three books are all very high up on my TBR.
Hall of Smoke by H.M. Long is an epic Viking fantasy out from Titan Books on the 19th of January. Hessa is an Eangi: a warrior priestess of the Goddess of War, with the power to turn an enemy’s bones to dust with a scream. When her village is raided and the remaining Eangi slaughtered, she has to go on a quest to seek vengeance and regain her goddess’ favour. On the way, she realises that the gods might not be all that they’re cracked up to be and there are bigger powers at work. It sounds fantastic! Pre-order a copy via Bookshop here. (affiliate link)
The Mask of Mirrors by M.A. Carrick is out on the 21st of February. It is an exciting fantasy featuring a con artist and a dazzling world of dreams and intrigue. Corrupt underworld and masquerades, I’m very tempted. Trickery and aristocrats just help the matter… And just look at the cover for The Mask of Mirrors. How can you not want this? Order a copy from Bookshop here. (affiliate link)
And to round off this list, a middle grade. The City of the Plague God by Sarwat Chadda is the newest book in the Rick Riordan Presents imprint. Out on the 5th, it features Mesopotamian mythology – featuring characters from the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of humanities oldest surviving texts. Thirteen-year-old Sik wants a simple life going to school and helping at his parents’ deli in the evenings. But all that is blown to smithereens when Nergal comes looking for him, thinking that Sik holds the secret to eternal life.Turns out Sik is immortal but doesn’t know it, and that’s about to get him and the entire city into deep, deep trouble… Order a copy from Book Depository here.
I don’t read a lot of thrillers these days. But I adored the witchy short story collection Tess Sharpe co-edited a couple years ago, Toil & Trouble, so I was very intrigued to check out longer work by her. The Girls I’ve Been is something of a genre-defying book, featuring a thriller-like main plot, combined with a backstory mystery and queer romance. And, spoiler alert, it’s just as wonderful as I hoped for!
It’ll also be turned into a Netflix film starring Millie Bobby Brown soon, so the excitement is high for The Girls I’ve Been – I’m very glad that it holds up to the scrutiny!
Many thanks to Becci Mansell and Hachette Children’s Books for sending me an ARC. All opinions are entirely my own.
STAR RATING: 5/5 ✶
PUBLICATION DATE: 04/02/21
SUMMARY: Meet Nora. Also known as Rebecca, Samantha, Haley, Katie and Ashley – the girls she’s been.
Nora didn’t choose a life of deception – she was born into it. As the daughter of a con artist who targeted criminal men, Nora always had to play a part. But when her mother fell for one of the men instead of conning him, Nora pulled the ultimate con herself: escape.
For five years Nora’s been playing at normal – but things are far from it when she finds herself held at gunpoint in the middle of a bank heist, along with Wes (her ex-boyfriend) and Iris (her secret new girlfriend and mutual friend of Wes… awkward). Now it will take all of Nora’s con artistry skills to get them out alive.
Because the gunmen have no idea who she really is – that girl has been in hiding for far too long… (from Hachette Children’s)
OPINIONS: Damn is this book good. The only reason I didn’t finish it in a single sitting is because I’m getting old and I need sleep these days. Narrated by Nora, a whip-smart, wise-cracking girl, The Girls I’ve Been is thrilling and addictive. The reader soon gets pulled into the stories dominating the novel, both the present-day thriller plot and Nora’s mysterious past. But where The Girls I’ve Been truly stands out from other YA thrillers is through showing the emotional impact of the plot.
Despite the close first-person narration from Nora’s perspective, the reader gets a lot of insight into all of the main characters. Wes, Nora’s ex and current best friend and Iris, the girl she is dating, are strongly impacted by Nora’s previous lives and the way she handles her past and Tess Sharpe manages to convey the emotional rollercoaster these relationships undergo over the course of the story masterfully. All of them are such distinctive characters too, it was wonderful to become part of their group for the duration of The Girls I’ve Been.
There is not a single thing I would criticise about this book right now – maybe I’m being too generous, but The Girls I’ve Been has hit a sweet spot I didn’t realise needed scratching. Stellar writing, great pacing and strong upkeep of tension throughout the book coupled with fantastic characters. Not much more I could want.
There are some books that are simply beautiful. And Skyward Inn by Aliya Whiteley is one of those. Once I started reading, I could not put it down, I was so immersed in its world and I pretty much read the whole thing in a single sitting and yelled at all my friends that they needed to read the book IMMEDIATELY. This book is magical and I love it a lot.
Massive thanks to Hanna Waigh and Rebellion Publishing for sending me an ARC, all opinions are my own.
STAR RATING: 4.5/5 ✶
PUBLICATION DATE: 16/03/21
SUMMARY: Skyward Inn, within the high walls of the Western Protectorate, is a place of safety, where people come together to tell stories of the time before the war with Qita.
But safety from what? Qita surrendered without complaint when Earth invaded; Innkeepers Jem and Isley, veterans from either side, have regrets but few scars.
Their peace is disturbed when a visitor known to Isley comes to the Inn asking for help, bringing reminders of an unnerving past and triggering an uncertain future.
Did humanity really win the war? (from Solaris)
OPINIONS: I have rarely read a book that is written as beautifully and engrossing as Skyward Inn. It is weird in a good way – although I’m not sure I fully understood everything that went on, and will have to reread it soon. This is the sci-fi-coffee-shop-AU book of my dreams. It is a slice of life found-family narrative that depicts life after war. Skyward Inn is not a grand narrative, it’s a cosy character-driven book. It’s tagline is “This is a place where we can be alone, together.” And really, I couldn’t imagine a book that would resonate more with me right now.
The characters are odd and cranky, in strange relationships with each other and most of all wonderful and nuanced. They think, they interact, and they live their lives. A book this magical doesn’t need big mysteries, or a fast-paced narrative. It is slow but immersive, drawing the reader into its world, and the tensions between humanity and Qita, the relationships between Jem and Isley and Jem and her son Fosse. Part of me wishes that Skyward Inn were longer so I could have spent more time in its world, but another part knows that it was just right the way it is.
If you like philosophising about what happens after an explosive narrative ends, and imagining cosy coffee-shop AU’s, Skyward Inn is the book for you. Add it on Goodreads here, and pre-order it from Bookshop here. (affiliate link)
Mike Shackle is a damn great writer. I am very glad that I kept procrastinating on reading We Are the Dead so I was able to read A Fool’s Hope just a few days later and did not have to suffer for very long in between! While being a lovely person, he likes to torture his characters (and his readers), so be forewarned if you are considering diving into his excellent series – it’s addictive and soul-destroying.
Massive thanks to Will O’Mullane and Gollancz for inviting me on the blog tour and sending me a review copy of A Fool’s Hope. As usual, all opinions are my own.
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
PUBLICATION DATE: 03/12/20
SUMMARY: War takes everything.
From Tinnstra, it took her family and thrust her into a conflict she wanted only to avoid. Now her queen’s sole protector, she must give all she has left to keep Zorique safe.
It has taken just as much from Jia’s revolutionaries. Dren and Jax – battered, tortured, once enemies themselves – must hold strong against their bruised invaders, the Egril.
For the Egril intend to wipe Jia from the map. They may have lost a battle, but they are coming back.
If Tinnstra and her allies hope to survive, Jia’s heroes will need to be ready when they do. (from Gollancz)
OPINIONS: A Fool’s Hope starts off right where book one leaves off, minutes after the devastating end of We Are the Dead. It features many of the same excellent characters and stellar writing, and no less pain for its protagonists. I love those disaster kids with my whole heart and they suffer so badly – Mike, please be kind to them for a little bit! Tinnstra is one of my favourite characters in fantasy – she is a coward who ends up rising to the challenges placed before her and Zorique needs to be protected at all costs.
The one gripe I had with A Fool’s Hope is that I struggled with the passage of time. We Are the Dead took place over the span of a very short period of time, and as the second book started immediately after, it took me a while to realise that there were sometimes large gaps of time between chapters. A Fool’s Hope plays out over years, and I needed to get used to the new timescale. I wish there was more obvious guiding in that respect, although I read it as an e-copy and the paper version might be more helpful (or maybe I just overread signifiers, I sometimes do that).
The Last War series is very well written, fast paced and contains tight character work. Mike Shackle has written a series on the edge between true Grimdark and Epic Fantasy that is a true model of how the genre should be done. I need more of his writing, and I can’t wait to read the next book he publishes. Add A Fool’s Hope to your Goodreads here, and order it from Bookshop here. (affiliate link)
The Library of the Dead, one of 2021’s new YA urban fantasy obsessions. Set in a near-future Edinburgh and inspired by Zimbabwean magic, it is slightly reminiscent of Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series (who also provided a cover blurb) in its very broad strokes. It features mystery, an occult library and magic, all ingredients for a good story!
Many thanks to Jamie-Lee Nardone, Stephen Haskins and UK Tor for the ARC. All opinions are my own.
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
PUBLICATION DATE: 04/02/21
SUMMARY: Ropa dropped out of school to become a ghostalker – 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? (from UK Tor)
OPINIONS: Now, the most important thing to note about The Library of the Dead is that it’s more on the YA side of things than the blurb lets on. Ropa is fourteen, something that I had to keep reminding myself throughout the course of the story, as her character felt older to me – if I hadn’t had the age on the page I would have placed her in her late teens to early twenties. But she is a wonderful main character. Jaded, fearless and immortal as only teenagers are. She is also smart, pragmatic and creative. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the story from her perspective.
The Library of the Dead is full of interesting characters – aside from Ropa, I loved Priya, a wheel-chair bound young woman whom she meets in the eponymous library, Rob, the leader of a band of criminals, or Wilson, henchman supreme. There are layers to all of them, and the brand of urban fantasy found in The Library of the Dead is a far cry from the bland fare often associated with the genre. This series is a breath of fresh air combining Zimbabwean magic (a culture which I don’t think I’ve seen represented before) with a Scottish setting and a wonderful library.
I am looking forward to reading more of this series, and finding out how Ropa’s story continues after the mystery of The Library of the Dead is solved. My favourite part of this volume was the setting, so I am intrigued to find out more about the library and the knowledge contained therein, although Ropa, her grandmother, and their brand of ghost talking are just as interesting for future stories.