“The Tombs” by Author Deborah Schaumberg – Book Review

The Tombs Front cover Deborah Schaumberg
“The Tombs” by Deborah Schaumberg (Image Credit: Farid-ul-Haq)

Author Deborah Schaumberg’s debut novel The Tombs (from HarperTeen) tells the story of a young girl as she tries to uncover mysterious and dark secrets during 1882’s New York.

I was provided a copy of The Tombs for review. The opinions are my own.

I’ve been watching and reviewing TNT’s The Alienist, set in 1890s New York. That’s why I was looking forward to reading The Tombs by Deborah Schaumberg, a story that’s set in New York, 1882.  Young Avery Kohl is our protagonist as Schaumberg weaves a story that offers a well-constructed world and interesting supporting characters. While I did find a few problems with the plot, overall, I think this story will keep you reading until the end.

Here’s the official description:

New York, 1882. A dark, forbidding city, and no place for a girl with unexplainable powers.

Deborah Schaumberg’s gripping debut takes readers on a breathless trip across a teeming turn-of-the-century New York and asks the question: Where can you hide in a city that wants you buried?

Sixteen-year-old Avery Kohl pines for the life she had before her mother was taken. She fears the mysterious men in crow masks who locked her mother in the Tombs asylum for being able to see what others couldn’t.

Avery denies the signs in herself, focusing instead on her shifts at the ironworks factory and keeping her inventor father out of trouble. Other than listening to secondhand tales of adventure from her best friend, Khan, an ex-slave, and caring for her falcon, Seraphine, Avery spends her days struggling to survive.

Like her mother’s, Avery’s powers refuse to be contained. When she causes a bizarre explosion at the factory, she has no choice but to run from her lies, straight into the darkest corners of the city.

Avery must embrace her abilities and learn to wield their power—or join her mother in the cavernous horrors of the Tombs. And the Tombs has secrets of its own: strange experiments are being performed on “patients”…and no one knows why.

The gorgeous cover aside, one of the things I liked about The Tombs was the worldbuilding. Schaumberg has studied architecture, and it shows in the story she’s created. You’ll be easily transported to New York’s past (during 1880’s Second Industrial Revolution), with the author’s focus on the structures surrounding the characters adding to your reading enjoyment. Creating the environment is very important when telling a story and Schaumberg does a good job in her debut.

Our protagonist, Avery Kohl, is likable, with Schaumberg deciding to tell the story in her POV. She owns a pet falcon (Seraphine) and has ‘modern’ thoughts when it comes to being a woman and how to treat other races. She’s also a welder and looks out for her friends, even putting her own safety in danger to protect others. Avery also has aura-seeing powers, which she’s trying to make sense of. Other people in Schaumberg’s world possess powers, too. There’s diversity shown through other characters, including African-Americans, the Romani, and more.

Three years ago, Avery’s mother was imprisoned in an asylum called the Temple of Mind Balance Studies. The main plot has Avery teaming up with a diverse group of friends, trying to embrace her powers as an aura healer, and deciding to free her mother from the grasp of a corrupt scientist. It’s a fun read that has elements of steampunk.

The issues I had with The Tombs include the story’s pace. The beginning is quite fast. However, things slow down about halfway through, which felt weird to me because I’m a fan of reading faster-paced stories. Also, I would’ve preferred the main antagonist to be more fleshed out. Just being evil for the sake of being evil doesn’t always work in a story’s favor. And I get that YA as a genre tends to have love interests and love triangles, which The Tombs has too, but I’m just tired of them at this point.

Having said that, as Schaumberg’s debut novel (currently available on Amazon and from other booksellers), I was impressed by The Tombs. I’m looking forward to seeing what she decides to write next. If you’re into historical-fiction YA stories with an interesting female character, you should consider picking up a copy.

Go ahead and visit her official website.

Have you read HarperTeen’s The Tombs by Deborah Schaumberg? Let us know.

Author: Farid-ul-Haq

Farid has a Double Masters in Psychology and Biotechnology as well as an M.Phil in Molecular Genetics. He is the author of numerous books including Missing in Somerville, and The Game Master of Somerville. He gives us insight into comics, books, TV shows, anime/manga, video games, and movies.

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