TITLE: City of Ghosts
AUTHOR: Victoria Schwab
PUBLICATION DATE: 6th September 2018
MY RATING: 4 Stars!
“Ever since Cass almost drowned (okay, she did drown, but she doesn’t like to think about it), she can pull back the Veil that separates the living from the dead . . . and enter the world of spirits. Her best friend is even a ghost.
So things are already pretty strange. But they’re about to get much stranger.
When Cass’s parents start hosting a TV show about the world’s most haunted places, the family heads off to Edinburgh, Scotland. Here, graveyards, castles, and secret passageways teem with restless phantoms. And when Cass meets a girl who shares her “gift,” she realizes how much she still has to learn about the Veil — and herself. And she’ll have to learn fast. The city of ghosts is more dangerous than she ever imagined.”
Synopsis taken from Amazon.
When I got my hands on a copy of this book I was super excited! The first thing that struck me was how gorgeous the cover is, how much more gorgeous it is than the US cover (sorry not sorry, UK covers are way nicer!) which made me really happy to have it in my hands! I’d seen so many ARCs of this floating around after Book Expo but given that it’s a middle grade, I hadn’t really seen many reviews. So I bring to you: A review!
I like the odd middle grade, but sometimes struggle with them being over simplistic or patronisingly written. Kids are smart, especially kids who are readers. They don’t need authors to simplify language and make the stories less scary and intense. They can handle it! So when I saw that this was a ghost story, that was my worry. I worried that it would be a ghost story and a bit creepy but the stakes would not be high enough. It would be a bit creepy, but the characters wouldn’t get into TOO much danger and everything would be okay in the end. In this respect, I was pleasantly surprised!
The first thing to say would be that Schwab does not fall into the trap of the patronsing simplicity that some authors feel is necessary in middle grade. It’s written in a way that is not over complex and without words that would be out of the reach of a child’s vocabularly, but it doesn’t feel like the author is talking down to the readers. I found when I was a child, I often hated books written for my age group because it felt like the author was assuming that I couldn’t understand as well as an adult and everything was over simplified and over explained. Schwab does a fantastic job with her writing style here. She makes this read accessible and easy but still fun and natural. Cass and Jacob talk to each other as normal kids would do, not as an adult who thinks they know what kids sound like. The dialogue is effortless and executed well.
This book isn’t overly magical, but the ghosts and the Veil are what gives this story its paranormal edge. The Veil is the space that overlaps our world where the ghosts reside that only someone like Cass can enter. She can step through the curtain that separates our world from the land of the dead, and MAN, is this well written! The Veil and its workings feel incredibly sophisticated for a middle grade; each detail is clearly thought out and explained. Schwab’s experience writing YA and adult fantasy clearly shows through here as the paranormal elements of this story are faultless. Nothing seems messy or relies on an air of mystery; every scenario and individual working of the Veil seems fully explained and thought out. I was incredibly impressed by this. It’s what really made this book stand out from other simple kids stories of the middle grade genre.
My worry that this book wouldn’t be high stakes enough started to concern me about half way. I felt like things were cruising along fine with a few bumps, but the characters would emerge completely unscathed having faced a minor danger. However, just as I was about to stop and write ‘not high stakes enough’ in my notes, BAM! Stuff got serious. There was definitely some real danger and times when things did feel pretty shaky for our main characters. I realised pretty quickly though that this wasn’t going to be a creepy atmospheric ghost story though, but instead a ghost based adventure. If you read this, don’t expected to be spooked or scared, but instead expect to be taken on an eerie adventure across both modern and historic Edinburgh!
Also, I want to praise Victoria Schwab for writing a mixed race character into a kids book and specifically explaining her heritage. Whilst I wish this wasn’t something I had to specifically praise an author on, unfortunately not enough authors do include non-white characters, especially in kids books. There was no benefit to the plot for Cass and Lara to sit and have a specific conversation about Lara being half Scottish, half Indian, but Schwab still took the time to include a casual conversation about a different hertiage than the MC.
This book has left me with a yearning to visit Edinburgh in the rain. I loved the in depth descriptions of the historic sites they visited and I feel that Schwab painted such a clear picture of the city. Even though I’ve never been to Scotland, I felt like I was there with them in the cobbled streets in the drizzle. The UK to US translations also really amused me; the description of fish and chips, and Lara laughing at Cass saying she had soggy pants made me chuckle a lot.
My only real criticism is that it the story did feel a little narrow at times. I would have liked it a little more fleshed out with maybe a few more twists and turns. I feel like there was so much more to this story that could still be told, and maybe found this book a little short, as if there were still some elements unexplained that I would have liked to have seen. I feel like we need some more development of the character’s personalities and backstories, because at the moment this feels a little underdeveloped. I imagine we will being seeing more from Cass and Jacob though and therefore these things will be developed further in subsequent books, but I think instead this book definitely could have had some more packed into it, even for a middle grade.
Overall, this was a fun, gripping middle grade that did not feel patronising or over simplified. It was sophisticated and well thought out. If you want a Scottish adventure that will have you yearning to visit the city, or if you have a kid or sibling who wants a cool book that won’t patronise them, then pick up a copy of City of Ghosts from the 6th September!