In a bleak, somewhat dystopian world where magic-users are accepted as part of the landscape, a young girl attempts to earn dubious living carrying messages back and forth between the living and the recently dead.
The setting is Scotland, but one where law and order have given way to a world divided into those who have wealth and power and those who struggle to survive by whatever means they can. Civilization is barely hanging on by a thread, and a lot of citizens, including our protagonist, Ropa Moyo, live on the fringes in a “camper city” reminiscent of the tent cities of the 1930s era U.S. depression. Ropa, a street-smart girl of fourteen, plies her trade take care of her family, her Gran and younger sister, Izwi.
Ropa’s regular customers are her lifeblood, but they know the score-either pay, or have someone from the living pay, or she doesn’t pass their messages along. So when one persistent ghost who wants only to have someone find her missing son, Ropa brushes her off, repeatedly. Finally convinced by Gran to do a good deed and help, Ropa becomes involved in a mystery that involves more than a few missing people, children and indigents, a new drug sweeping Edinburgh’s underground, and a house that seems alive and able to possess its unwilling residents.
During all of this, Ropa reconnects with her old school friend, Jomo, who has a new job that he isn’t supposed to talk about but shares with Ropa he is an apprentice in the magician’s only Library of the Dead. Ropa, after a death threat, is initiated into this illustrious community and soon makes a new friend, the paraplegic medical doctor Priya, who can make her wheelchair float upside down.
These three unlikely heroes will be the only ones who seemingly care about the missing children, the insidious drug, and the implications the manifest evil have on the city. Successfully shutting down the operation, there are questions still to be answered; who is the Tall Man that the criminals seem to defer to? He never makes an appearance, at least in this book, but this is the first book of author H. L. Helchu’s Edinburgh Nights series. Will Ropa be allowed to study magic, and can her new “mentor” be trusted?
I both loved and was sometimes irritated by the characters in this book. I found some of the language used by the fourteen year old character offensive, but I accepted that her circumstances might have exposed her to more vulgarity. Overall, the character Ropa is written as being mature beyond her years in many respects, but still a young girl with vulnerabilities and insecurities. She has good friends, and family to steady her, and the ending of the book both gave hope for her future as well as a setup for further problems.
I am interested in seeing how this series develops and give this book 4.5 stars. I would recommend it to fans of dystopian fantasy, but caution some of the language and situations are better for mature readers.