November 5, 2018

Book Review: City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab


City of Ghosts (Cassidy Blake #1)

by Victoria Schwab

Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy, Paranormal, Mystery
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Length: 285 pages
Published: August 28, 2018
Purchase Links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

My Goodreads Rating: 2.5 or 3 out of 5 stars

Official Book Summary:

"Cassidy Blake's parents are The Inspectres, a (somewhat inept) ghost-hunting team. But Cass herself can REALLY see ghosts. In fact, her best friend, Jacob, just happens to be one.

When The Inspectres head to ultra-haunted Edinburgh, Scotland, for their new TV show, Cass—and Jacob—come along. In Scotland, Cass is surrounded by ghosts, not all of them friendly. Then she meets Lara, a girl who can also see the dead. But Lara tells Cassidy that as an In-betweener, their job is to send ghosts permanently beyond the Veil. Cass isn't sure about her new mission, but she does know the sinister Red Raven haunting the city doesn't belong in her world. Cassidy's powers will draw her into an epic fight that stretches through the worlds of the living and the dead, in order to save herself."


Quote:

“Embrace your strange, dear daughter. Where’s the fun in being normal?”

Excerpt:

"People think that ghosts only come out at night, or on Halloween, when the world is dark and the walls are thin. But the truth is, ghosts are everywhere. In the bread aisle at your grocery store, in the middle of your grandmother's garden, in the front seat on your bus.

Just because you can't see them doesn't mean they aren't there.

I'm sitting in History class when I feel the tap-tap-tap on my shoulder, like drops of rain. Some people call it intuition, others second sight. That tickle at the edge of your senses, telling you there's something more.

This isn't the first time I've felt it--not by a long shot. Not even the first time I've felt it here at my school. I've tried to ignore it--I always do--but it's no use. It wears away at my focus, and I know the only way to make it stop is to give in. Go and see for myself."


Alternate cover

My Book Review:

The premise and setting are interesting, but the plot seems a bit oversimplified even for a middle grade audience.

Cassidy Blake has the ability to see ghosts since she “died” (or rather didn’t die and was given a second chance...or something...she drowned but lived--this is not clearly explained). Her parents are famed ghost hunters who get a reality tv deal to travel the world visiting the world’s most haunted locations (cue the series’ continuation hopping from location to location).

The family first travels to Edinburgh, Scotland accompanied by the narrator’s best friend, a twelve-year-old named Jacob. Oh, and he's a poltergeist that only she can see.

If you’re on board for all of that, it’s a good story so far. As an anglophile, I loved the setting in Scotland and Schwab's descriptions of the streets, downtown areas, and famous cemeteries. This was all very engaging and perhaps the strongest element of the novel.

What I struggled with was the anticlimactic climax, a moment predictable for a number of chapters. It all seemed too simple. Schwab can trust her middle grade readers with more complications, red herrings, and twists and turns. Perhaps adding another forty or fifty pages to its overall length by providing some more scenes that flesh out characterizations and add backstory would have helped heighten the novel's suspense.

Cass’s parents are also portrayed as unbelievably absent in their daughter’s life. I understand this trope--get rid of the parents so the kids can be independent and explore--but it felt inconsistent. For the first 2/3 of the novel, Cass's parents don't seem anything other than loving and intelligent. The fact that she wanders alone in not just a foreign city but a foreign country at only twelve-years-old is a head-scratcher. It's also unclear how Cass purportedly drowned/died and her parents are none the wiser. And if they're ghost hunters, can't she trust them with the truth of her gift? Again, developing the narrative throughout would have helped.

That being said, I wonder how many installments Schwab has planned for the series. If there are enough to give the story some extended arc--maybe three to five instead of just a couple--there's definitely room for her to go back and explain some of these elements while taking readers further into Cass's journey as a paranormal go-between exploring this world and the world beyond. Victoria Schwab has a huge, loyal fanbase so she can count on her readers coming back for more.

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