City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab

Publisher – Scholastic

Published – Out Now

Price - £7.99

They’re here. They’re watching.

Cass can pull back the Veil that separates the living from the dead.

When Cass’s parents start hosting a TV show about the world’s most haunted places, the family heads off to Edinburgh. Here, graveyards, castles and secret passageways teem with restless phantoms.

But when Cass meets a girl who shares her “gift”, she realises how much she still must learn about the Veil – and herself. And she’ll have to learn fast. The city of ghosts is more dangerous than she ever imagined.

When we are growing up there is a point when we realise that the concept of death leads to the question of what happens afterwards. Ghost stories were one avenue I was drawn to as a child trying to work that out - the world looks so different at night, so you can easily imagine that certain places or noises are down to a restless spirit or two.  In this story we find a modern take on what ghosts are up to and at the same time have a tour around one of the UK’s best city’s legends.

Cass is a clever teenager who loves her comics and photography, but her life is definitely impacted by ghosts.  Her parents (a sceptic and a believer) have written a series of books examining various ghostly legends of the world and not insignificantly after a near death experience a year ago, she is now friends with a ghost Jacob and can now pass into the strange and sinister world of the Veil where you enter the mindscape world that ghosts create. So, when her parents announce they are to work on a new TV show visiting the most haunted places in the world both her and Jacob are not thrilled that even more ghosts may appear. Edinburgh as well as bringing delights such as the mysterious dish known as fish and chips is also a place filled with ghosts and Cass soon finds one known as the Raven in Red who is very keen to find her.  Cass and Jacob end in a race against time to find out both exactly what Cass’s powers are and how the Raven can be stopped before it’s too late.

I really enjoyed how this series works.  The friendship of Cass and Jacob is a lovely partnership of two friends (albeit one is a ghost) they share geeky moments even if its clear Jacob was not fully paying attention to the Harry Potter films, yet they are still working out how they’ve ended up connected after Jacob saved her life.  By then placing these Americans in a place with it’s own real myths you get an overview of not just the ghosts (the tales of Burke and Hare is lovingly described!) but the streets buried underneath the city or the café where Rowling wrote the first Potter story all giving the reader a sense of life in another country being wonderful but also different even when there is the same language used.

Schwab does though excel in giving us moments that send a chill down your bones.  A ghost’s reflection; the sudden appearance of ghosts in the shadow of an underground street and the idea of ghost children serving a darker power all build up the tension until Cass finds exactly why she is being sought out.  Although a book primarily for a younger audience it does bring that sense of tension and scares that the best type of stories such as Dark is Rising or let’s face it Doctor Who in making people want to look behind the door to see what is making the eerie noise.  One key theme is learning to find out who you are as Cass finds out what her powers mean and that she cannot always rely on her parents to save her. Schwab has a great understanding of a young teenager starting to figure out that adults are not the super competent idols we all start thinking they are.

It is while standalone also looking like a start of a series with hints of more mysteries to unravel about the Veil.   I’ve been a fan of Schwab’s work now for many years and even though this is definitely more towards the younger part of her reading age group its that mix of scares, exploring a strange world (even if Scotland) and beautiful writing that made reading this on a wintry day really pay off.