Book review

Review: City of Ghosts – Victoria Schwab


285 pages| 5 hours long| Scholastic Press| Middle-grade fantasy/paranormal


The digest: a fun little children’s story which would appeal to readers looking for a break from more serious narratives without losing all sense of mystery and danger. Not great but not awful.


From the Goodreads page:

“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 spirits. Her best friend is even a ghost.

So things are already pretty strange. But they’re about to get much stranger…”

I listened to the audiobook version of City of Ghosts, narrated by Reba Buhr – she did a spot-on job here and her Scottish accent never failed to amuse me. I do recommend listening to the audio version – it’s only 5 hours long and really seems to add another dimension to the storyline.


What did I not like about this book?

  • The pacing was a bit off – the start was slow, and the ending was far too swift with a bit of a muddled-middle.
  • There were too many references to Harry Potter. I’m all up for a nod to a fandom every now and again, but instead of making the narrative seem realistic I was just distracted every time someone happened to be wearing a Hogwarts house scarf.
  • It’s nothing original. Speaking and interacting with ghosts is nothing new and this reads like Ghost Whisperer: Child Edition (and you won’t find anyone claiming that Ghost Whisperer was original!).
  • The Big Bad is typical ghost fare – it would have been much better to see Schwab create a more relevant or up to date bad guy than relying on the typical tropes.
  • There isn’t much of a plot beyond the idea of ‘Monster of the week’ – the first sections of the book are spent telling us about the history of our characters and then Edinburg (as well as the exploration of the latter) and then everything just happens. Not awful but not the best.


What did I like about this book?

  • There is a solid mixture of light-hearted fun and more serious topics tackled.
  • There’s a fair amount of character variation.
  • The non-supernatural elements of the narrative are believable, and the supernatural parts are entertaining.
  • There is a genuine sense of danger towards the conclusion of the book.



You can see that the rating of 3/5 isn’t too unexpected, then. But it was a bit of a shock to me because I enjoyed listening to the story so much that I failed to notice its negative aspects until I’d had a bit of time away. I mean, the audiobook is only 5 hours long and I listened to it at 2x speed so maybe I did just need a bit of extra time to process it? Either way, although on reflection I don’t regret my time spent reading this story, I’m not sure I’ll be rushing out to recommend it to anyone any time soon. Will I keep up with the series? Maybe. It was short and harmless, I just hope that Schwab builds on what she has created here with a bit of a more complicated story (MG doesn’t mean everything has to be simple!).

It has some major issues when it comes to originality, with the other thing separating it from a multitude of similar books being its focus on old film cameras. Yeah, I liked that aspect but is an 8-12-year-old going to know what a film camera is? Would they even care? Are the 8-year olds of today as enamoured with Harry Potter as my generation is/was? I’m not sure. 

This is very clearly an exercise for Schwab in writing about things she enjoys – Harry Potter and Edinburgh at the top of that list. There is nothing wrong with that, but perhaps it was a bit too self-indulging and forgot to be at least an attempt at an original story along the way.


Do you have any thoughts on City of Ghosts? Do let me know down below if so – let’s get a conversation going!

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