Scholastic, 2019. Hardcover Middle-grade, 304 pp.
Paranormal Fantasy, Horror, Mystery. ages 8-13.
A Note from the Start: You do have to read book one: City of Ghosts first; there is no getting around it—not that you should want to get around it. Schwab reacquaints the reader with her characters, their contexts, but they’re friendly reminders, quick re-immersion techniques. The emotional build of the overarching conflicts are what you need book one for. What I’m going to write about here, is how—after the first book—you are going to love the second one just as much.
Having wrapped up their segment featuring Edinburgh, Scotland, The Inspectors (hosted by Cassidy Blake’s parents) have come to Paris, France—a second city of ghosts…
We came from Edinburgh, Scotland, a nest of heavy stones and narrow roads, the kind of place that always feels cast in shadow.
Paris is sprawling and elegant and bright.
Maybe Paris isn’t as haunted as Edinburgh is. Maybe—
But we wouldn’t be here if that were true.
My parents don’t follow fairy tales.
They follow ghost stories. (p 4)
As Schwab introduces Paris landmarks, food, and culture to the reader (via Cassidy), they have a new kind of paranormal experience to haunt us with as well. It will begin in the Catacombs that wind their way below Paris. What was once a stone quarry, the Catacombs were repurposed as a graveyard for millions of bodies—six million bodies. It’s called The Empire of the Dead. It’s a series of tunnels that people have been known to get lost in and then lost to.
Having become familiar to the way the filming on location works, Schwab introduces ghost stories and histories through Cassidy’s parents first. It’s with Cassidy that we get to experience some of their stories in a much more visceral way. She’ll step through the Veil better informed and armed in Paris—but still learning, still encountering the unknown, or yet-known. Jacob is still her loyal, caring partner in mischief, and Lara is available via phone this time; both friends continue to be consistent sources of empathy and conflict. Her parents will continue to be both an obstacle and a resource. All the glorious elements from the first novel return for the second.
“It comes in handy, having a ghost for a best friend. I can sneak him into the movies, I don’t have to share my snacks, and I never really get lonely. Of course, when your BFF isn’t bound by the laws of corporeality, you have to lay down some ground rules. no intentional scaring. No going through closed bedroom or bathroom doors. No disappearing in the middle of a fight.
“But there are drawbacks. It’s always awkward when you get caught “talking to yourself.” But even that’s not as awkward as Dad thinking Jacob is my imaginary friend—some kind of preteen coping mechanism.”
I love Cassidy and Jacob’s rules of friendship. And their friendship becomes even more dear in book two. Still, Cassidy struggles with what it means to have a ghost as a best friend. And Jacob will continue to discover new things about himself as well. Both these things are set against the backdrop of a new terrifying creature and Lara’s insistence of who Cassidy is meant to be, and what her purpose is.
Comic book and Potter-world references return in the natural way of the age-group, but also artfully in the way it supports the world-building. I’m loving the world Schwab sees, both inside and outside the Veil. They’re good with characters, whether it’s a human, creature, or setting. The book is easy with it, drawing you into the conversations, relationships, haunts…
Tunnel of Bones offers another terrifying creature and plenty of sorrow. Cassidy and Jacob are imperiled time and again. Again, the close-calls are felt, and as with the first book, they do not have an encounter without consequences and certainly not with any guarantees. You genuinely fear for Cassidy and/or Jacob. Schwab will even convince you to feel fear alongside her other characters, both living and dead. And sadness. More children will be involved…
“Look,” [Jacob] says. “I get it. You can’t help yourself. It’s your nature. Your purpose, whatever. You have to look under the bed. Open the closet. Peek behind the curtain. But have a little common sense, Cass.”
Cassidy is a bold one, and good-hearted; she’s capable, clever, vulnerable. Jacob is equal to her in these ways; easily described in the same terms. They create a fantastic partnership, and an engrossing relationship story. It’s a component that builds in an incredible tension. I’m really worried about where it all will lead.
“I don’t know what’s happening to me,” he says. “I don’t know what it means. It scares me, too. But I don’t want to go. I don’t want to lose you. Or myself.”
I don’t know where The Inspectors are going next. I don’t know what the next boss-level creature Cassidy and Jacob (and Lara) will encounter next. I do know that Jacob’s revelation and the source of that “fainting spell” in the final chapter has me impatient for book three.*
The series City of Ghosts is a must-read series for fantasy readers who love the tinge of horror** (or vice versa). Bonus: it is one of the most enjoyable friendship stories on the shelves.
*after writing about the read,I looked up Book 3 . It’s called Bridge of Souls, they are headed to New Orleans, “and the city’s biggest surprise is a foe Cass never expected to face: a servant of Death itself.” Mark the calendars for September 2020, friends.
My review of City of Ghosts (book 1) and
**the note I borrowed from it: “There are plenty of disturbing images and ideas to make some think twice about handing this to an early grade-schooler, but the beauty of the Harry Potter references is that if a young reader has read the entire series, this isn’t any darker.”
+An excerpt I love:
“Maybe is a match in the dark,” I murmur, half to myself.
It’s one of Mom’s favorite sayings, for when she gets stuck on a story. she starts giving herself options, potential threads, turning every dead end into a new path with one simple word: maybe.
Maybe is a rope in a hole, or the key to a door.
Maybe is how you find the way out.
Victoria Schwab aka V.E. Schwab is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of more than a dozen novels for readers of all ages, including City of Ghosts and Tunnel of Bones, Everday Angel: Three Novels, the Shades of Magic series (which has been translated into over 15 languages), This Savage Song, and Our Dark Duet. Victoria can often be found haunting Paris streets and trudging up Scottish hillsides. Usually, she’s tucked in the corner of a coffee shop, dreaming up stories.