Though the temperature outside may beg to differ, fall is (finally) almost upon us. I for one am more than ready to put on a comfy sweater, crunch some leaves, sip a PSL, and curl up with a good ghost story – especially if that ghost story is by an incredible author and set in one of the most enchanting cities on earth. If that sounds like your idea of the perfect day too, please allow me to introduce you to City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab.
Known for bestselling books including Vicious and the Shades of Magic Series, Schwab makes her first foray into Middle Grade with this spooky tale set in Edinburgh, Scotland. City of Ghosts is the story of Cassidy Blake, a young girl who finds she can see ghosts after she nearly drowns, and her best friend Jacob – the ghost who saved her.
When Jacob pulled Cass back from the dead, she pulled a bit of him into the world of the living. As Victoria puts it, now Cass isn’t all the way alive, and Jacob isn’t all the way dead. As if that weren’t complicated enough, Cass’s parents have a successful book series exploring the history of hauntings and paranormal activity – a series that leads to a gig hosting a TV show about the world’s most haunted places. Not exactly prime destinations for a girl who can see ghosts.
Soon enough, the family heads off to Scotland to film the first episode of The Inspecters (get it?). The city teems with haunted history and local legends, with castles, graveyards, and secret passageways holding more than their share of restless spirits. Cass soon realizes how much she still has to learn about the Veil between the living and the dead, not to mention her own gift. And if she doesn’t learn fast, she’ll be in more danger than she ever imagined.
Schwab, who splits her time between Edinburgh and Nashville, paints a beautiful portrait of the City of Ghosts. There’s a map included at the front of the book to help point out the sites Cass visits, but they will be familiar to anyone who has visited Edinburgh. From the castle to Mary King’s Close and the street performers on the Royal Mile, the city comes alive whether you have been there or not. There’s also a healthy dash of Harry Potter history, with fun discussion of fandom (Cass is a Gryffindor) and a visit to the Elephant House, where JK Rowling wrote some of the earlier books.
Local legends find new life in the book as well, with ghost stories and Edinburgh history twining together as Cass and Jacob explore the city. In fact, all of the legends except for the primary one that takes centerstage are real. It’s a fascinating way to dive into Scottish history from the creepy to the flat-out macabre.
Through it all, Cass narrates the story while Jacob – who can hear her thoughts – cuts in with his own remarks in conversation, or just when he disagrees with her. They’re very close, but hide things from each other at different points, which makes for an interesting reading experience. I loved seeing Cass find the line between bravery and fear, boldness and strategy – and Jacob is a both a great foil and a perfect match. They look out for each other as things get stranger and more dangerous.
While I would have loved to read City of Ghosts from a YA or adult perspective because I! Want! More!, it’s great that middle school readers will now be able to enjoy Schwab’s work in a story intended for them. The premise of each episode of The Inspecters taking place in a different city is a perfect setup for a series, so here’s hoping we’ll get to see Cass, Jacob, & Co. exploring another haunted locale sometime soon.
City of Ghosts is available now.