City of Ghosts, Victoria Schwab’s first foray into writing a Middle Grade novel, shows that there can be depth and emotion written between every line in a book, no matter the genre or age range. (spoilers!)
Victoria Schwab is known for her immersive world building and beautiful macabre style, and she continues to bring her unique grasp on storytelling to Middle Grade readers in City of Ghosts. Before the book even started, City of Ghosts had my attention.
Victoria, also known as V.E. Schwab for her adult fantasy books, writes in a visceral way in which the reader feels enveloped into the world she’s created. Like I wrote about back in May, when picturing her books played out, I always get a sense that they are in gray-scale, with pops of red. With an eerie aura, City of Ghosts is no different from her other series tonally and descriptively.
It’s obvious when reading that she put as much care into this book as she has for her other series, if not more so. City of Ghosts is about Cassidy Blake, a 12 year old whose best friend happens to be a ghost and her ability to not only sense ghosts presence, but travel through the Veil of the dead herself. She and her family travel to Edinburgh, a city full of lore and the dead buried beneath the city where she comes in contact with more ghosts then she ever imagined.
With an intriguing premise, eerie tone, an eclectic cast of characters, and a surprising amount of Harry Potter references, City of Ghosts is a perfect mix of spooky and disquieting with a side of adventure.
THE MAP THE MAAAAAP. pic.twitter.com/g59CYnTKU7
— Victoria/V.E. Schwab (@veschwab) July 25, 2018
One of my favorite things when opening up a new book is seeing that there is a map that goes along with it. There is something about a map that elicits a sense of adventure, that this book will take me on a journey and City of Ghosts did just that.
Instead of simply labeling the map ‘Edinburgh, Scotland,’ it says ‘Cassidy’s map of Edinburgh, Scotland,’ making a distinction between the more real version of Edinburgh and that of a young girl who can see ghosts of the past, in which Edinburgh has an abundance.
The way that Edinburgh is described within the book itself has an undercurrent of affection that is easily picked up on. When Cassidy visits the Royal Mile the descriptor for the area is that Edinburgh Castle and the hill called Arthur’s Seat are like bookends, which evokes a heartfelt intuition behind Victoria’s love of the city itself.
I can imagine Victoria in Edinburgh, walking the streets and envisioning Cassidy and her best friend, Jacob, as they not only visit Edinburgh Castle and Greyfriars Kirk, but when Cassidy herself visits the Elephant House, where J.K. Rowling worked on Harry Potter.
City of Ghosts isn’t just a novel about a young girl who can see ghosts, but of the history in Edinburgh that isn’t just dark and foreboding, but traces back to the birthplace of many children’s love of reading thanks to Harry Potter.
The references to Harry Potter are woven into the story as though it is Cassidy’s favorite book series, her fangirling about the Elephant House is on par with how I would react when seeing it, as I’m sure that’s exactly how Victoria felt as well.
“I have one foot in winter and one foot in spring. One foot with the living, and one with the dead.”
-CITY OF GHOSTS pic.twitter.com/5DW6gAjJt3
— Victoria/V.E. Schwab (@veschwab) August 4, 2018
The book is extremely relatable, considering not everyone can see ghosts in their day to day lives. It may be marketed as a Middle Grade book, but anyone with a sense of imagination and adventure could pick this up and fall into the world that Victoria has created.
Not all of the places that Cassidy visits are as light and airy as the Elephant House. Greyfriars Kirk and Mary King’s Close were described as truly creepy places, and I must confess I am easily spooked, so my heart beat fast as events started to rapidly unfurl.
The lore within City of Ghosts itself is just as eerie as the plot. The Raven in Red is a creepy premise, with the disappearance of children and the ability to reach across the Veil in search of a host body so that she can wreak havoc on Edinburgh once more.
One small detail that I feel like I need to point out is the fact that a character that Cassidy meets, Lara Jayne Chowdhury, is POC. It may seem minor to some, but Chowdhury stood out to me because I have a friend with that last name, and to see Indian representation within this eerie setting made me immediately reach out to my friend and tell her that a character shared her namesake. Representation matters, not only in Middle Grade books, but in all genres.
Recently on Twitter and instagram Victoria posted about visiting Paris for research on City of Ghosts #2 and I can’t help but speculate what spooky places she could have scouted that could be visited upon in the second book of the series. My first thought, of course, are the catacombs of Paris underground tunnels that hold the remains of over six million people.
I can imagine Cassidy and her parents visiting Notre-Dame and Les Halles, Le Manoir de Paris, Cimetière de Montmartre and, Cimetière du Montparnasse. No matter where Cassidy ends up coming across ghosts in Paris, I can’t wait to read it!
With a late summer release date, City of Ghosts makes for an awesome addition to this year’s chilling autumnal reads alongside earlier this summer’s The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw and Toil & Trouble, a witchy anthology which also came out this past Tuesday!
If you’re a fan of all things V.E. Schwab, like A Darker Shade of Magic and The Monsters of Verity (under Victoria Schwab), then perhaps you’ve read Vicious, the first book in her adult fantasy series, Villains, that is about, well, villains. Vengeful comes out next month, so if you haven’t yet had the chance to read Vicious there is still time before its sequel comes out!
Fans of her A Darker Shade of Magic series should also be on the lookout for the first issue of her prequel comic, The Steel Prince, about prince Maxim Maresh. The comic will run from Oct 10 2018 on wards, with the bind up set to be released around April 2019.