City of Ghosts – Victoria Schwab – A Review

Life has a way of happening, you know? As it turns out, so does death.  City of Ghosts is V. E. Schwab’s first book in her new Y.A. book series, narrated by Cassidy Blake. A girl who, after drowning in a river, comes back to realize she can cross the veil separating our world from the personalized purgatory of ghosts. Oh, and her best friend is a ghost named Jacob who can read her mind.

This strange ability is making life interesting enough, but then her parents get a T.V. show deal that lands them in one of Europe’s most haunted cities, Edinburgh, Scotland. There, she meets a girl who shares her peculiar gifts, discovers her purpose, and goes head to head with an urban ghost story, The Red Raven.

A quick side note, this book isn’t available to buy, yet. (It will be very soon.) I was fortunate enough to get a signed, uncorrected proof during my last minute book con dash that involved a lot of luck and magical timing. You can read that adventure here.

Now, Onward with the review!

I do not believe in a reality where I pick up a Schwab book and go away dissatisfied. That being said, this was no, “Kell wore a very peculiar coat.”, either. What I love about

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Personal artwork loosely inspired by The Red Raven.

Schwab’s work is the seemingly effortless way she draws you fully into the setting and world of the characters. (Anyone who writes knows it is not, in fact, effortless but sometimes grueling and soul-sucking.) She does this not by plastering saturated words over soggy loaves of prose, but by finding the essence of a place and breathing life into with a few well-placed sentences.

 

She does the same in City of Ghosts. I’ve never been to Edinburgh, but when I’m following Cassy through the dreary haunted streets, I feel like I have been. I feel like I know the smell in the air and cobblestone streets and the gift shops and the ghost tours. It’s a delicate skill that she’s mastered.

Another thing I always look forward to in Schwab’s work is character. There wasn’t a single one who I didn’t love. Cassidy’s parents, the ghost hunter and the professor, were delightful. They didn’t get much time in the book itself but the few pages they had dedicated to them made me smile. I adored Jacob the ghost. He is the epitome of the ghost all of us aspire to be one day. If I have any complaint at all it was that I didn’t get to learn more about the main protagonist, the Red Raven.

In a small way, it also felt like a head nod to Vicious what with the whole, coming back to life with strange powers. I’m not complaning. It’s lovely to imagine that these two series take place in the same universe.

On the whole, it was an enjoyable, if not slow start to what is going to be a fun adventure in future books. It does what the first in a series if supposed to do. The characters are fleshed. The setting is shifting. The plot dice are rolling, and I’m eager to find out where they land next.

Happy reading.

-Side note: Have you ever heard of Shelf Love Crate? Every month you get a themed box shelflovebox1based on different Y.A. Fantasy novels. You get a signed book, and tonnes of other fun things like puzzles, books marks, candles, socks and more. My next review is going to be on the Y.A. book, The Bird and the Blade by Megan Bannen that I got in my July crate. Check out their website here if you’re interested.

BookCon 2018 and Meeting V. E. Schwab

Have you ever had one of those moments where a thought strikes you out of nowhere and you have no other choice but to act on it? That’s how I got to BookCon on Sunday and managed to meet V. E. Schwab.

Now, I can write this in a way to make it seem like a grand event. A meeting at the hands of fate and fortune. The strings of destiny braiding down to the crossroads of choice and action. In actuality, it was dumb leprechaun luck coupled with a friend who’s far more outgoing than I.

I’ll back up a bit.

I uncovered Schwab during a time in my life where all the comforts I knew – my apartment, friends, house plants, and cats were taken by various circumstances. The outcome was me, my bike, and a backpack filled with necessities like a few changes of clothes and a shower pack. Everything else was in a storage unit that I couldn’t reach without a car.

Things were fortunate in a few ways. It was an uncharacteristically warm autumn and winter. I had friends and co-workers who let me sleep on their sofas. And, I had a locker at work, and no one minded that kept tea and a teapot inside and came in every morning to sit in the breakroom to have my morning cup.

Around August was when I lost everything, and around January is when I found a place to set in a few roots. If I were a plant at this point in my life, then I would have been a sad one who went through a bad transplant that resulted in few leaves, weepy branches, and a loss of vibrant color.

Even though I found a place to stay, it was still without any of the usually homey comforts. I slept on pillows and blankets on a wood floor in the spare room and kept a small hot water heater and a line of teas against the wall. There was a single window and a slanting roof and a small door in the wall leading to a nightmare attic space with a stained, folded mattress in the center of the room. (Horror movie fuel.)

I needed comfort. So, next chance I got I went to the library. To be perfectly honest once I started studying story and writing craft, reading had begun to lose some of its appeals. Part of the joy was not knowing how I was being subtly manipulated on every page. Finding a book to enjoy became an arduous task involving reading first pages, middle pages, dialogue, and imagery. I needed the guarantee that I could be immersed in the world and forget the occasional peek behind the wizard’s curtain.

In the library that day, I discovered a book in a white jacket with bold red and black artwork. It was called A Darker Shade of Magic. It had an invisible force pulling me in. The second it was in my hands I felt it was the right choice. I read the jacket – pirates, alternate worlds, magic, a thief – it was quite simply every story I’ve ever loved packed into one.

I read the first sentence, “Kell wore a very peculiar coat.” and I slammed the book shut because I knew it was exactly what I needed at that time.

“For the ones who dream of stranger worlds.” She dedicated it to.

It was, in fact, exactly what I needed at that point in my life. For the first time in years, I devoured every page of a book. I laughed, and cried, and mourned it when it ended. And, during a time where I was ready to give up on my own dreams, It gave me hope that maybe I could get published one day too.

Reel the tape forward again to now, after I got my friend hooked on ADSOM and during a remarkably stable time in my life. I stumbled on the news that she was going to be in the big apple for BookCon. We paid the $40 into the city. We paid the last minute $45 fee to get into the convention. We dealt with the endless amount of confusion, misdirection, and downright disorganization (seriously they need to organize these things better)  And, in the end, we were cut off right before getting into the booth where she signed books and spoke to her fans. But, we retained the stubborn hope that all was not lost. She was scheduled for another signing in a few hours.

We wandered off to find this second location, the both of us determined to make the most out of our last minute trip. To be perfectly honest, while in that line, before we were cut off, I asked whatever guides or spirits or gods were there to give me a chance for nothing more than to say hello.  And while I was coming to terms with that fact that it may have all been for nothing, my friend gasped, pointed, and Schwab was walking down the hall with her editor right toward us.

In the end, I got my hello. I would have been happy with that alone, but I also got a picture with her. What else can I say? She’s just as sweet, gracious, and lovable as she is online and in her books. Despite being mobbed by her fans she took it all with a measure of thankfulness and love that was wholehearted and astounding.

Maybe I was too shy to say more than hello. Maybe she was too busy for me to talk with her and pick their brain a bit, but I am eternally grateful for that opportunity.

Moral of the story?

Plane ahead of conventions.

Wear comfortable shoes.

And bring snacks/water if you’re going to spend half your day standing in inchworm lines.

Oh, and always bring a friend along who’s more fearless then you are. (I probably never would have approached her without you.)

This was a long one. Thanks for reading.

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P.S. I know I look awful. Give me a break. I was running on maybe three hours of sleep after a full work week.