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Ex-Libris: A Novel Hardcover – January 1, 2001

3.1 out of 5 stars 55 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Isaac Inchbold, middle-aged proprietor of Nonsuch Books, has never traveled more than 24 leagues from London, where by 1660 he has made his home above his bookshop for 25 years. King (Domino) opens his finely wrought tale with Inchbold's receipt of a strange letter from an unknown woman, Alethea Greatorex, or Lady Marchamont. Surprising himself and his apprentice, Tom Monk, Inchbold consents to visit her at Pontifex Hall, in Dorsetshire. Once he arrives at the crumbling manor house, Lady Marchamont shows him its extraordinary library and sets him a strange task: he is to track down a certain ancient and heretical manuscript, The Labyrinth of the World, missing from her collection and identifiable by her father's ex libris. Withholding much relevant informationAsuch as the reasons that her husband and father were murderedAshe offers him a sum greater than his yearly income, but gives no reason other than that she wishes the collection undiminished. When he accepts the job, Inchbold is drawn into a clandestine, centuries-old battle over the manuscriptAhis every move, it seems, dictated by some unseen hand. King expertly leads his protagonist through an endless labyrinth of clues, discoveries and dangers, all the while expertly detailing 17th-century Europe's struggles over religion and knowledge. He interweaves a subplot describing the manuscript's journey from Prague to Pontifex Hall that involves theft, flight and murder. The world of the novel is satisfyingly complete, from its ornate syntax and vocabulary to the Dickensian names of its characters (Phineas Greenleaf, Dr. Pickvance, Nat Crumb); its beleaguered, likable narrator is fully developed; and its fast-paced action is intricately conceived. Fans of literary thrillers by the likes of Eco, Hoeg and Perez-Reverte will delight in this suspenseful, confident and intelligent novel. (Feb.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Isaac Inchbold, the asthmatic proprietor of Nonsuch Books on London Bridge, is an unassuming hero, drawn into a dangerous game of duplicity and intrigue when he is asked to track down an elusive manuscript in the summer of 1660. The Labyrinth of the World, marked with the ex-libris of intrepid collector Sir Ambrose Plessington, may be a little-known Hermetic text, a map of the lost city of El Dorado, or a heretical document capable of causing vast political upheaval. It is also being sought by a menacing trio of men in black, whom Inchbold must outwit to survive. King (Domino; Brunelleschi's Dome) has created a literary historical thriller in the vein of The Name of the Rose. It delivers fascinating but arcane facts about ciphers, Mercator maps, astronomy, and invisible ink in an engaging tale that only occasionally becomes tedious. For all fiction collections. Christine Perkins, Jackson Cty. Lib. Svcs., OR
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Walker Books; 1st edition (January 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802733573
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802733573
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.3 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #484,424 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Ross King is the author of the bestselling Brunelleschi's Dome and Michelangelo & the Pope's Ceiling, as well as the novels Ex-Libris and Domino. He lives in England, near Oxford.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
"A most delightful hallucination", is the title of these comments in a more customary form. It is a phrase that was used in Mr. Ross King's book, "Ex Libris", and I thought it is an appropriate term for the suspension of disbelief that all good novels must accomplish. This is a mystery in which books play a prominent role. The detail that is related is vast so I can understand why some might find the enormous number of descriptions tedious. I am an absolute book addict, so I enjoyed the history of how the paper was made, the words created and concealed, and the manufacture and repair of what are now very old books, or manuscripts that predate books by many centuries.
The book is very well written and features an unassuming bookseller as the protagonist who owns a shop and lives on London Bridge in the 17th Century. His cloistered world is shattered one day, and from that moment until the book ends, readers follow him along on a complicated mission to solve a mystery. To make matters more complex, there is a second background story taking place many years in the past that helps with the exposition of what our bookseller is dealing with. The players are legion and a very good memory is required to follow the tale. A pad of paper and a pen helps to track the important pieces. As many of these pieces are rare editions of old books and book fragments, it could make anyone a bit dizzy while keeping all in order. As I said, for me it was great fun, but I can see why others would be frustrated if they were expecting a more straightforward tale.
The book jacket suggests a few Authors whose work is comparable to that of Mr. King's. One I agree with and one I do not, but I do feel a third is even more appropriate. Mr. Charles Palliser writes very intricate tales in historic periods that are a maze to follow as well as a book to read. I truly think most will find this a wonderful book and reading time very well spent.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a book collector and voracious reader, I have a soft spot in my heart for books about people interested in books. This genre has produced great non-fiction ("A Gentle Madness" by Nicholas Basbanas leaps to mind) and great fiction (such as "The Club Dumas" by Arturo Perez-Reverte). Ross King has produced a novel that is not among the best in the genre but it isn't bad.
This is a novel that tells two parallel stories: First, of a London bookseller in 1660, Isaac Inchbold, who is charged with tracking down a rare manuscript. Second, of Emilia, a lady-in-waiting to the young Queen of Bohemia in 1620, who flees the destruction of Prague with the treasure-trove of books from Prague Castle.
Of the two, the secondary story of Emilia is the more interesting of the two. Hearing a bit of Prague in its glory days took me back to a recent visit I made to the city and brought it to life for me again. Also, Emilia comes off as a sometimes bewildered but ultimately intelligent and together young woman. On the other hand, I found Inchbold to be rather uninteresting. He seems to be intelligent but allows himself to be easily manipulated and rather slow on the uptake. I found myself rather irritated with this character who is supposed to be our guide through this story and who allows himself to almost completely controlled by rather obvious means. Fortunately, this novel is also peopled by quite a few interesting minor characters such as Inchbold's apprentice, Monk; Biddulph, the old Navy historian; and Appleyard, the blind clerk in the deeds' crypt.
Unfortunately, I'm not quite sure the culmination of the novel is really worth the effort it takes to get there. There are some interesting revelations concerning the book that is the object of everyone's interest but the end in rather anticlimactic. Still, this novel is an easy read and there's some interesting things here. All in all, it's not a bad way to spend an afternoon.
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Format: Paperback
I love historical fiction, particularly when, as in Ross King's case, a mystery is involved. Ex-Libris was a satisfying, and rewarding read for at least 300 of it's 392 pages (Paperback Edition). I have read many books involving English history, still, I feel Ex-Libris painted a picture more vividly of life in the mid-1600's.
Without giving anything away, or not much anyway, Ex-Libris is a story set in the disastrous years of and after English Reformation. There are two stories entwined together in the story, they run parallel to eachother but are decades apart. Both stories center in the search for a missing text, one of greater value than the reader can imagine at first.
I enjoyed the introspective pace of the narrator Isaac Inchbold. His accounts of life on London Bridge were enlightening, and convincingly authentic, the sites and smells and cricks and creeks are all lushly delivered. Fans of historical fiction will lap these details up.
I wonder, however, if Ross King prefers narration to dialogue, for I felt the story was lacking in the latter, and when it did occur, it sounded versed in the same tongue as narration, every character exactly as eloquent as the next. I probably wouldn't mention such an incongruity, or even write a review for this book at all if it hadn't been for the way the book ends.
Ex-Libris is recommended in the same breath, with almost all reviewers, with the works of Umberto Eco, Arturo Perez-Reverte, and Iain Pears, which is good company no doubt. But I felt some of the comparisons are too obvious. Our hero (or, anti-hero, in Mr. Inchbold's defense he is clumsy and club-footed) spends a waning chapter on deciphering a cryptic jumble of letters he finds, and, while he does solve it's peculiar riddle, it hardly seems important.
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