Bingo 5: Cityscape
The Library of the Dead features the city of Edinburgh on the cover, both above and below ground.
It has a pretty interesting premise: 14 year-old Ropa is a ghostalker, meaning she is a licensed professional who takes messages back and forth between the dead and the living. She’s dropped out of school to work full time to support her family, her grandmother and little sister. She’s got rather rough past, but she does have a few friends. One of them introduces her to the Library of the Dead, a secret, hidden beneath the city of Edinburgh, library of magic. That’s two threads so far. Thread three is the mystery of the local children who have disappeared.
There is so much promise here in terms of story, character, and world. The problem for me is that most of it goes undeveloped. The city of Edinburgh has a lot of potential both as a physical location as well as haunted reputation, but virtually none of that gets any attention. The magic in this world similarly seems interesting, both the official formal stuff that Ropa starts to learn, although we don’t get to see her do much, as well as the local more culturally based practices that she’s learned from her grandmother; we don’t get a whole lot of that either. The Library represents very much the same problem as the city; the concept is neat, but there’s really only a brief few visits and the focus has little to do with the place or the magic.
The other general problem is that a lot of things about this story, plot and character, are familiar. Ropa is the rough around the edges heroine is could be some sort of chosen one, especially with the threat she encounters but brushes off towards the end of the story, the villain’s plot that is uncovered is a bit of a trope, the house that seems to have a mind of its own that must be escaped, the new friend (Priya, she’s another thing that’s interesting that could get even a little more attention) who helps the heroine start to navigate her new world, the possible teacher-mentor, the potentially knowing elder, the solving the mystery but opening up the potential for something much more dangerous, etc.
I get the feeling that the author was more into Ropa’s voice, at the expense of plot, character, and world-building. Even for a first-person narration, which admittedly is not my favorite, Ropa talks a lot. There are quite a few little pointless interactions, and I never took any kind of liking to Ropa. It’s too bad really; she could be really interesting, but then, that’s true for most of the novel as well. For a book that has a library on the cover and in the title, you’d think the focus would be there. Maybe in the next one?