59 pages 1 hour read

V. E. Schwab

City of Ghosts

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 2018

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Summary and Study Guide


City of Ghosts, published in 2018, is Victoria Schwab’s first middle-grade novel and the first in her Cassidy Blake trilogy, which follows the series’s namesake as she travels with her parents to the most haunted cities in the world. City of Ghosts is set in Edinburgh, Scotland, and takes its title from the city’s nickname. Schwab, who resides part-time in Edinburgh, includes a map in the front matter of the book that outlines the haunted locations in the city. All the ghost stories told in the novel except the account of the Raven in Red are based on known tales. Book Two, Tunnel of Bones, is set in Paris, France, and shows Cassidy exploring the city’s legendary catacombs, which hold more than 6 million skeletons. The trilogy concludes with Bridge of Souls, set in the iconic city of New Orleans. Through Cassidy’s adventures in the world’s most haunted cities, Schwab creates a horror-edged fantasy that includes spine-tingling details but is accessible to a younger audience. Schwab is the author of over 20 novels, including her Shades of Magic series and the best-selling adult fiction novel The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue.

Plot Summary

Ever since Cassidy Blake crashed her bicycle into the icy waters of the river near her home and a blond-haired boy pulled her from the depths, she can see ghosts. Her rescuer, Jacob, himself a ghost, became her best friend and accompanies her on her occasional journeys into the ghostly realm, which Cassidy calls “the Veil.” On the last day of school before summer break, Cassidy is anxiously awaiting leaving with her family for their beach vacation when a familiar sensation interrupts her. The Veil calls to her in the form of a tapping sensation, one that Cassidy finds hard to ignore. This day, the pull of the Veil leads her to the school auditorium, which is notoriously haunted by a young boy who died tragically in a fire many years before.

Despite Jacob’s protests—he is a nervous ghost—Cassidy parts the web-like curtain of the Veil and enters another world, one of pale shadows and strange sensations. The only light comes from the pale blue glow shining inside her chest. She watches the last moments of the boy’s life as a fire breaks out on the set, and he is pinned under the stage’s trap door. Using her beloved vintage camera, Cassidy snaps photos behind the Veil, knowing they will reveal only smudges and shadows, but still hoping the developed photographs can help her understand this mysterious dimension to which she is strangely drawn.

Cassidy’s parents, famous ghost hunters nicknamed the “Inspecters,” call a family meeting to announce that they are under contract to film a documentary exploring some of the most haunted cities in the world. Their first destination is Edinburgh, Scotland, famously called “The City of Ghosts.” Cassidy is not sure what upsets her more, the fact that they must postpone their beach vacation or that they are traveling to a city filled with ghosts that will haunt her incessantly. Though Cassidy’s parents know she has an invisible friend, they are unaware of her ability to cross the Veil. They may be famous ghost hunters, but they are still her parents, and she worries they might exploit her strange ability. She is not even certain her father believes in ghosts. The family packs up their luggage and the family cat, Grim, and travels to Scotland. Cassidy worries she left Jacob behind, but when the plane lands, she is happy to see him playfully riding her suitcase through baggage claim.

The Blake family settles in a lodging house called The Lane’s End, run by Mrs. Weathershire. Their lodgings are near the famous Royal Mile, the road that connects the Old Town of Edinburgh from one end to the other. Almost as soon as the Blakes set foot in the country, they are inundated with the ghostly lore of Edinburgh; Cassidy notices immediately that the pull of the Veil is much stronger than ever before. Her parents, however, are giddy with excitement over the rich, haunted history of the city and are more than ready to absorb it all. As she and her mother set out for a walking tour, Cassidy notices a strange girl sitting on the stairs staring right at her. She feels inexplicably drawn to the girl, but she is not sure why. On their tour, Cassidy and her mom visit Greyfriars Kirk, a famously haunted cemetery in Edinburgh.

Cassidy immediately registers eerie, malevolent energy in the kirk but humors her mother’s curiosity. When the pull of the Veil becomes impossible to resist, Cassidy finds herself yanked into the netherworld and—for the first time—not by her own will. Behind the Veil, the graveyard is full of ghostly presences, but she sees only one that captures her attention: a black-haired woman dressed in a red cloak. When the woman begins to sing, Cassidy feels hypnotized by her song and drawn into her grasp. Jacob shows up just in time to snatch her from the hands of the enchanted woman. Later, the family’s tour guide, Findley Stewart, explains the tale of the Raven in Red, a distraught mother who lost her child and now haunts the streets of Edinburgh looking for children to steal. Cassidy shudders to think that the ghost woman almost captured her and now understands that the spirit world of this old city is far more dangerous than those she previously explored.

When she returns to The Lane’s End after the startling encounter, Cassidy meets the mysterious girl from the stairs. Lara Jean Chowdhury is a curious girl, with her neat clothing and mirror pendant necklace, but Cassidy feels an unexplainable connection to her. However, when Lara asks her if she believes in ghosts, Cassidy cannot find the words to answer. The next day, the camera crew arrives along with Findley, and the entire group travels to Mary King’s Close, a series of subterranean passageways rumored to be haunted by ghosts from the plague years. Cassidy is once again forcibly pulled through the Veil, where hordes of ghosts chase her, and she must use her camera’s flash to distract them while she and Jacob run to safety. As they catch their breath, they see Lara slip into the Veil, and Cassidy rushes to follow her. Lara uses her mirror pendant and a spell-like chant to hypnotize the ghost and reduce him to ashes, an act she calls “reaping.” As her light glows red in her chest, Lara explains to Cassidy that for people who can cross the Veil, ghost hunting is their purpose. Despite Jacob’s distrust, Cassidy decides to meet with Lara the following day, elated she has found someone just like herself.

Lara explains their job is to help ghosts who are trapped in the Veil by revealing to them what they are. She takes Cassidy into the city and beyond the Veil, where Cassidy reaps her first ghost and feels, for the first time, that there is a purpose to her gift. However, Lara explains that Cassidy should also release Jacob, because he is not meant to be here. Cassidy tries to explain their connection, but Lara insists his presence is a bad idea. When Cassidy tells Lara about the Raven in Red, Lara warns her to stay away from the malevolent spirit. Cassidy has something the Raven wants, a life force, which she roams the streets collecting from children in hopes of bringing her dead body back to life. Jacob reappears and follows Cassidy to find her parents, who are touring the prisons of Edinburgh Castle. Almost as soon as she enters the castle, she feels the pull of the Veil and hears the siren song of the Raven. As Jacob’s frantic cries pull her to the other side, she finds him held captive by hordes of children. Just as she reaches to help him, the Raven in Red appears and transforms into a fearsome black bird, clutching Cassidy’s wrist. Before Cassidy can grab her camera, the Raven reaches inside her chest and yanks away her cord (her life force). Jacob and Cassidy are trapped in the Veil as the raven races away with the cord.

They run back to The Lane’s End to enlist Lara’s help, and Cassidy sends Lara to reassure her parents she is safe while Jacob and Cassidy run to Greyfriars Kirk, where the Raven is buried. Fighting off the Raven’s stolen children, Cassidy jumps into the Raven’s grave and takes her by surprise, grabbing her blue cord and ripping it in half. Sadly, her precious camera is smashed in the scuffle. Lara arrives with Findley on the other side of the Veil, but the Raven knocks him to the ground. Passing back into the Veil, the Raven calls her zombie-like children to attack, but Cassidy grabs a broken shard of the camera lens just in time to freeze the Raven long enough to grab her own cord. Cassidy yanks the Raven’s thick rope-like cord, which is made of all the children’s lives, and the evil crone dissolves along with her rope. Finding the other half of her cord, Cassidy watches the two halves rejoin with a small crack in the center.

Cassidy survives the experience with only a minor charge for grave vandalism and a cut on her palm. Her parents ground her indefinitely but are happy she is safe. Lara gives her the mirror pendant, and Findley warns her she is marked now and will need to be careful. When she takes her camera to Bellamy’s Photo Shop to have the film developed, the shop worker offers to fix her camera lens. There is one photo left on the roll, and Cassidy poses next to the window with Jacob by her side. Before they leave the city, she collects the developed photos from all the ghost sites in Edinburgh. Most are just smudgy shadows, but the last photo unmistakably shows the outline of a young boy. As they drive out of the famed City of Ghosts, Jacob’s ghost fives Cassidy, and she swears she can almost feel his palm touch hers.