I adore the Darker Shade of Magic series. Like, adore it. So, when V.E. (Victoria) Schwab announced the upcoming publication of a children’s novel, City of Ghosts, I was intrigued enough to preorder a copy… and then proceeded to read it in a day. And let me tell you, I have some thoughts, though I have refrained from any spoilers.
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Like other books I have read by Schwab, this book hooks you straight out of the gate. Her primary cast of characters, led by ghost-seeing Cassidy and her best-friend Jacob (who happens to be a ghost), are all charming and written purposefully. Though Cassidy falls into the classic archetype of unpopular-girl-with-cool-abilities-and-messy-hair, she is still incredibly dynamic and her friendship with Jacob goes beyond the friendships tropes one would expect, creating an extra element of intrigue.
Schwab, who frequently posts dreamy pictures of Scotland on her Instagram, is clearly familiar with the setting of Edinburgh, though she remains on the touristy trails for the benefit of the story and the reader hoping for a quick Google images search. The setting is quickly doubled, though, when Cassidy pulls back the “Veil,” and steps into the ghost world that perfectly mirrors the one of the living. This world is written with almost a misty grey overlay, keeping full understanding of it just out of reach, mimicking Cassidy’s own confusion about the ghost world and what part she has to play in it.
Cassidy’s and Jacob’s time in Edinburgh is full of new discoveries, encounters with powerful ghosts, and the meeting of new friends. Schwab perfectly melds the history of the city with a modern adventure, adding in just enough ghostly chill to keep readers hooked from start to finish.
But then she brings up Harry Potter. Again. And Again. And Again. And…. again.
Okay, before I get roasted at the stake for speaking against the great HP, here is a long, ranting, disclaimer… I never read Harry Potter (other than the third one, don’t ask me why). My grandma, who was my daily daycare provider, thought I would become a Satanist if I read them (because logic) so I never started the series when my classmates did. By the time that I was no longer under my grandma’s daily reading influence, everyone in my class was o-b-s-e-s-s-e-d. I could have read them then and there, but instead, I decided to be stubbornly counter-culture and refused. I watched the movies at sleepovers and participated in the Pottermore quiz to prove that I was a Slytherin and not to f*** with me, and called it a day. It was only recently that I caved and decided that HP is officially too important to literature to ignore, and started making my way through the audiobooks (currently on Half Blood Prince, thanks for asking). AND THEY’RE GREAT, OKAY, I GET IT. I WANT A BROOM, AND AN OWL, AND MY DANG HOGWARTS LETTER, YOU ALL WIN.
What I don’t want is to be reading a children’s book and be bombarded by Harry Potter references. Oh look, we made it back to the review.
Cassidy loves Harry Potter. She wears a Gryffindor sweater, has a Gryffindor bag, and totally geeks out when her and her mom pop into the Elephant House, where J.K. Rowling supposedly wrote much of the Harry Potter series. I am fine with that. I am also fine with her bonding with the cold-but-ultimately-friendly Lara over which Hogwarts house they would be sorted into.
What I am not fine with is how frequently Harry Potter references were the foundation of descriptions. It felt like a cop-out, a way to express the same thing without so many unique words. Harry Potter and the city of Edinburgh obviously share so much, but the constant references jolted me out of the story time and time again.
It is for this reason, and this reason alone, that I give City of Ghosts four stars.
Other than the onslaught of Harry Potter, this book delivered on everything I could ask for from a short children’s book. The characters were interesting and dynamic, the concept was brilliant and engaging, and the pace kept me hooked from start to finish.
Let me know if you have read City of Ghosts or any of Schwab’s other books! Also, drop a comment down below if you have a book you want me to read and review, but I swear if someone says Harry Potter, I am done with this blog. Okay, I won’t be, but I’ll be mad about it.
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