City of Ghosts by V.E. Schwab (ARC): A Haunting Middle Grade Debut


4 stars

Cassidy Blake heads to ultra-haunted Edinburgh, Scotland with her ghost-hunting parents to film their new television series. Which normally wouldn’t be a problem, except for the fact that Cass herself can really see ghosts. And her best friend Jacob just happens to be one.

In Scotland, Cass is surrounded by ghosts, not all of them friendly. She meets Lara, a girl who can also see the dead and teaches Cass about their job as an In-betweener, enlightening her about their duty to send ghosts to their after. Cass isn’t sure about her new mission, but the sinister Red Raven haunts the city, and she needs to go. 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.

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This was such a solid MG debut for Schwab, but I do admit I wish she did a couple things differently.

And I’m not saying this as a Schwab superfan or a YA superfan–I’m saying this as someone who has read more than her fair share of MG books (I was a very hungry-for-books middle-schooler) and has been strongly acquainted with the genre, some 5-7 years ago. (I feel so old; what is this??)

If you criticize this from a YA or what-Schwab-normally-writes standpoint, you’re going to be pretty damn disappointed. Because this is not YA. It is not what Schwab normally writes for adults. It is a book for 12 year olds, and I think that’s pretty cool.

Middle-school me would have loved this. Me now still really enjoys it (I’ve read The Penderwicks more times than is healthy so yes, I still enjoy MG fiction.)

I mean, the entire premise is so much fun and quite the romp in the woods–I love the being able to see ghosts and talk with them, and Schwab did a fantastic job with the paranormal stuff. It’s simple to understand the concept of going into the ghost world, and the emergence of ghosts in Cassidy’s world was easy to see.

It wasn’t super complicated or super forced, and Cassidy Blake’s paranormal powers were well explained and whimsically imaginative.

As a middle schooler, I totally would have ended up wishing for a near-death experience to give me special powers, not gonna lie.

And it was easy to relate to–easier than some of Schwab’s other works. Its told through first person, which uncomplicates connecting with Cassidy. (This is not like what Schwab normally writes! Remember–middle grade! Not at all the same detachment that you’ll find in adult fantasy and similarly A Darker Shade of Magic! No third person!)

Plus, you’re really right there with her the whole way through and there’s no POV switching or any funky business to jerk you out of the story.

The reason this is a four star was just that I wanted more from Cassidy’s character. Even though it was easy to relate to and understand what she was going through, I wanted more emotion, more character relationships.

I know there’s still stuff left to be explored, especially with Jacob in future books, but I wanted more about her connection with her parents, more about Cassidy and making new friends, more about feeling like she doesn’t fit in.

This obviously isn’t a contemporary and it’s not the focus, but I felt like there wasn’t nearly enough action for the plot to feel complete (see books like Land of Stories). I either wanted Schwab to make a more complicated plot with the Red Raven, or for (what I imagine her goal was) more of her plot to center on character.

I thought there was a lot of potential for Schwab to start exploring those character relationships more, even in book 1, especially with Cassidy having to make a new friend and also struggling with her friendship with Jacob.

I honestly commend Schwab at how flawlessly she’s able to write books for any age group, and I do think this is a title a bunch of middle grade readers will love. Even teens and adults could totally get into this story.

If you’re 1. a Schwab superfan, 2. a middle-grade reader who likes spooky things 3. someone who thinks this premise sounds appealing, then I totally recommend you check this one out!

Thank you so much to Scholastic @ Book Con for providing me with an advance reader’s copy! 

much love, vicky

Which of Schwab’s works are your favorite? Have you ever read anything of hers before?

9 thoughts on “City of Ghosts by V.E. Schwab (ARC): A Haunting Middle Grade Debut

  1. I’ve never read anything by Schwab but I hear so many amazing things and I really want to start! I also have read little MG since I was actually that age so I want to try to read more. I think the premise of City of Ghosts sounds really interesting. I definitely want to read this one! Great review ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. yes! It was definitely a very solid (and spooky) MG novel and if you’re someone who likes MG on occasion, you should totally check this out! it’s in first person & probably one of her more relatable works.

      Liked by 1 person

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