In Review: City of Ghosts

A scary and exciting read for all ages. Highest possible recommendation.

City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab 

Published by Scholastic on August 28, 2018. Hardcover of 290 pages at $17.99. Ebook available for $10.99. Intended for ages 8 – 12, grades 4 – 7.

The cover: A girl in a coat is murkily seen walking toward the reader. She is accompanied by a black cat to her left. The setting appears to be snow covered, as there are flakes in front of the blurry child. Behind her, against a solid ebony sky, are the crooked silhouettes of buildings, their windows as uneven as their stature. The author’s name is at the top in red. To the left of the girl’s feet the text states, “A haunted girl. An adventure like no other.” The book’s title is below this in a black scrawled font. This is obviously supposed to be Cassidy inside the afterworld. The cover credits are as follows: girl: Tana Teel/Stocksy United and Dima Zverev/Shutterstock; cat; Yongyuan Dai/iStockphoto; snow: Peter Gudella/Shutterstock, dimitris_k/Shutterstock, and Tana Teel/Stocksy United; back cover cat: GlobalP/Stockphoto. The jacket art and design are by Baily Crawford. This is the perfect cover for this book. Overall grade: A+

The premise: From the inside front cover, “Ever since Cass almost drowned (okay, she did drown, but she doesn’t like to think about it), she can pull back the Veil that separates the living from the dead…and enter the world of the spirits. Her best friend is even a ghost. So things are already pretty strange. But they’re about to get much stranger. When Cass’s parents land a gig hosting a TV show about the world’s most haunted places, the family heads off to Edinburgh, Scotland. Here, graveyards, castles, and secret passageways teem with restless phantoms. And when Cass meets another girl who shares her ‘gift,’ she realizes how much she still has to learn about the Veil — and herself. And she’ll have to learn fast. The city of ghosts is more dangerous than she ever imagined.” I enjoy ghost stories, I love Scotland, and I like that the protagonist’s best friend is a ghost. This has a lot of things going for it before I even read the first page. Overall grade: A

The characters: Cassiday Blake is an outstanding main character. She seems absolutely real, even though she can do things that no one should be capable of. She’s curious, but not to the point where she’s foolish; she’s true, doing what she thinks best for her family and Jacob; and she wants to do the right thing, such as when something upsetting is revealed she refuses to do the same thing. She is marvelous. Jacob is Cass’s best friend. He follows her everywhere, unless she did something to upset him and then he disappears. His backstory is interesting and he has all the qualities of what the reader would want in their own BFF. He has secrets, some of which are revealed and he always has Cass’s best interests at heart. The Blakes, Cass’s parents, are a fun pair. Dad is skeptic, Mom is the believer; they’re like a reverse Mulder and Scully. They don’t appear often in the book, but when they do it’s often to see that Cass is okay. Lara Jayne Chowdhury is the wild card of the book. Appearing in the same hotel as the Blakes in Edinburgh, she’s only a year or two older than Cass, but she seems to have more secrets than she does. When it’s revealed what she can do, it took my breath away. Though there are several specters and spooks in the book that cause frights, the Raven in Red is the one ghost that is a serious threat for Cass. When she appears all humor leaves the book for she is a most deadly spirit. She is fantastic and the way she is described to the reader is unforgettable. Every character in this book is exceptional. Overall grade: A+

The settings: Edinburgh of the present day is the main setting, with the characters visiting Edinburgh Castle, Grassmarket, the Royal Mile, an impressive scene underground, and several other places. Schwab captures the beauty of this city and the hidden terrors that lurk beyond the Veil. Anytime the suggestion of a ghost is mentioned, the reader can be sure that the setting is about to change for the worse. I loved how real locales were incorporated into this story, making me wanting to return to his land. The creepiest setting comes at the end and, to remain spoiler free, involves a graveyard. Overall grade: A+

The action: The tension comes from many different sources: Jacob keeping something hidden from Cass, Cass upsetting Jacob, ghosts appearing at all the worst possible times, Cass unintentionally falling through the Veil, what Lara is up to, and every single appearance of the Raven in Red. There’s so much action any reader will be unable to stop once the Blakes arrive in Scotland. Overall grade: A+

The conclusion: Everything is wrapped up, neat and tidy, but the Blakes’ journey across the globe to search for ghosts continues. There doesn’t need to be a sequel to this book, but I would be extremely upset if there wasn’t at least one or two more. Overall grade: A+

The final line: A scary and exciting read for all ages. The friendship between Cass and Jacob is outstanding, the settings are wonderful, and the ghosts are creepy goodness. This is an absolute gift to those craving supernatural delights with teenage heroes. Highest possible recommendation. Overall grade: A+

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Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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