The City of Ghosts Like I’d Never Seen It Before

by Gurpreet Sihat

For me, Christmas 2018 was very much a Victoria Schwab love fest, gift wise. Not only did I get the much talked about A Darker Shade of Magic trilogy, but I was also gifted City of Ghosts. I decided that the latter was a good choice by way of introduction to the author – “It’s spooky and set in your home away from home…” the inscription on the inside from my friend read – and so I began.

I learned very quickly that Schwab’s writing style, even though aimed at a younger audience, was captivating. Within half an hour (the book is set in America for the first part) I was transported back onto the streets of Edinburgh. From the comfort of my bedroom I was leaving Waverley Station where my train arrives when travelling in from London; wandering through the shops that line the Royal Mile where the Starbucks baristas know me by name; delving deeper and deeper to Mary King’s Close where my sister and I listened to ghost story upon ghost story in the dark; and meandering through Greyfriars Kirkyard, attempting to avoid that pesky poltergeist, after having just enjoyed a latte at the Elephant House. 

But it wasn’t just the way Schwab returned me to my home away from home. It was the story itself. A spooky tale told from the perspective of Cassidy Blake, a budding photographer who happens to be the daughter of ghost-hunters. Well, ghost-hunters that can’t actually see ghosts. But she can. In fact, she can physically pull back the veil that separates the living from the dead and step into their reality. It had never been a problem before but when the Blakes head off to Edinburgh to host a television show about the world’s most haunted cities, Cassidy realises that not all ghosts are as friendly as her best friend, Jacob. 

The characters are lovable from the second they appear on the page. Their motives, their quirks, and even Cassidy’s thoughts about Edinburgh are all relatable. It was definitely the other side of the veil that had me hook, line and sinker though. As someone who visits Edinburgh multiple times a year, it’s a way to see the city in a completely different way in different time periods. I’m positive that the next time I walk through Greyfriars Kirkyard, I’ll be imagining Bobby slipping between my ankles to settle down on his owner’s grave, or the medieval guards throwing people in the dungeons of Edinburgh Castle. 

One thing I would have loved to see more of, however, was individual ghosts. Ghosts are stuck in loops on the other side of the veil for various reasons and I would have loved to explore these loops some more. Don’t get me wrong, there are two or three ghosts that we bump into where we get to see why they’re on the other side of the veil, but when Cassidy discovers her purpose, it would have been nice to have this fleshed out a little more. This is just the first book in a new series, though, with the sequel, Tunnel of Bones, being released towards the end of this year, so hopefully there’ll be more about the veil and what lies beyond it in the books that follow.

I cannot wait to see where Schwab takes this series! Looking forward to delving into the A Darker Shade of Magic trilogy and seeing how Schwab’s writing fairs in the older YA genre now too. 

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