The Library of the Dead by T. L Huchu, published by Macmillan Books, is the first book in the very promising “Edinburgh Nights” Young Adult dystopian future series. While the genre has been mined to the extent an original take might seem impossible to find, Huchu has managed to create something new and fresh.
Edinburgh in some unknown future after the collapse of, well just about everything, and 14 year old, nearly 15, Rupa is out trying to make enough money to keep her grandma and little sister housed and fed. But Rupa isn’t working at the local MacDonalds – doesn’t exist anymore anyway – she’s plying a slightly more esoteric trade. She’s a ghost talker.
She acts as a go-between carrying messages from the dead to their living relatives. For an agreed upon fee, and you have to establish this in advance with the ghosts to make sure they stick to the deal, she will pass their wishes, suggestions, grievances, and advice along to their living relatives.
While trying to eke out a living among the dead Rupa stumbles across a mystery. Children are disappearing. One of her dead asks her to look into it and sends her down a rabbit hole of horror. For not only are children vanishing, those who are found again come home mysteriously aged. It’s like their youth has been sucked out of them.
While this might seem to be an insurmountable task for one young woman to solve she finds an amazing resource. A library buried beneath a graveyard in the middle of Edinburgh. Now obviously this isn’t your usual library – its location should give you that clue, but even the fact you have to enter its catacombs through a secret entrance in a crypt isn’t the most unusual thing about it.
No, what makes it unique is the fact that it is also a repository of all things magical. While Rupa has never considered her talents magic, it’s just something she does, the library opens her up to the possibility that her powers are far greater than she thinks.
In The Library of the Dead Huchu has not only created a unique world to set his story in, he’s given us a character equally as distinctive. Rupa is a wonderful mixture of cocky teenager on the cusp of adulthood, and caring granddaughter and elder sister. While her little family’s existence is precarious – the three live in a run down trailer – she strives to create an atmosphere of normalcy and keep them all healthy.
Making this book even more distinct is how Huchu has incorporated elements of Zimbabwean culture into the story. Rupa not only utilizes a marimba, or thumb drum, to help her communicate with ghosts, her instinctive magic reflects her grandmother’s African heritage.
Huchu has created an amazing story that is a perfect balance of adventure, character, and intelligent plot. The Library of the Dead breaths new life back into a genre that was in danger of becoming formulaic. It introduces us to some wonderful characters and a world whose reality is twisted just enough to be familiar and strange at the same time.
The Library of the Dead by T. L. Huchu is first book of his “Edinburgh Nights” series and if this title is any indication we’re in for a great ride. Read it and enjoy, and look forward to more adventures in this strange new world.