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The Invisible Library (The Invisible Library Novel) Paperback – June 14, 2016
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Man vs. machine, humans vs. aliens, paranormal activities – discover the best of science fiction with these collectible books. Learn More.
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“Cogman writes with a vivacity and wittiness that breathes new life into the genre…. Reminiscent of the works of Diana Wynne Jones and Neil Gaiman, Cogman’s novel is a true treat to read.”—Publishers Weekly
“Bibliophiles will go wild for this engaging debut, as Cogman hits all the high notes for enjoyable fantasy. Intriguing characters and fast-paced action are wrapped up in a spellbinding, well-built world.”—Library Journal
“Satisfyingly complex...[This] is a book in which to wallow.”—The Guardian (UK)
“Such clever, creepy, elaborate worldbuilding and snarky, sexy-smart characters!”—N.K. Jemisin, author of The Fifth Season
“A stunning work of art that has me absolutely begging for more.”—Fantasy Book Review
“Highly entertaining...It reminded me a lot of Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series.”—The Book Plank
“A dazzling bibliophilic debut.”—Charles Stross, Hugo award-winning author of the Laundry Files
About the Author
Genevieve Cogman is a freelance author, who has written for several role-playing game companies. She currently works for the NHS in England as a clinical classifications specialist. The Invisible Library is her first novel.
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So about that library and its group of thieves. Though to be honest, they only steal sometimes, so “agents” is a more accurate term, though they call themselves, no surprise here, Librarians. Irene is a full librarian, albeit on the junior level, and her missions involve entering alternate worlds (the library touches upon nearly all of them apparently) in order to retrieve books unique to those worlds so they may be stored in the Library. In this case, she’s tasked to find a particular version of Grimm’s Fairy Tales in an alternate steampunk-y London. Her first plot complication comes via her just-assigned apprentice Kai (nobody ever lies a tag-along newbie), the second via a rivalry with a higher level Librarian, and the third arrives when she finds out that her alternate London is “chaos-infected,” meaning home to the Fae, those aforementioned vampires and werewolves and other such ilk of varying power. The chaos-affiliated Fae are balanced in the universe by the order-affiliated dragons.
As you can tell from my intro, the complications keep coming, but suffice to say Irene’s mission doesn’t go as smoothly as expected, as the book quest gets a murder investigation tacked on (how she meets this London’s version of Sherlock Holmes), a potential romance with Kai, as well as a battle against a legendary evil rogue Librarian. And more. It’s possible that all these elements could have played nicely together and meshed into a fantastically rich story. Admittedly, it’s even possible they’ll do just that for some readers. But for me, it was all just a bit too much — too scattered, frenetic, and arbitrary, as well as too surface-level thanks to having so many elements divided over a finite number of pages.
My other issues were, as noted above, matters of execution. One problem is the Librarian’s magical power of Language, which basically allows Irene to tell targets to “do things” — doors to unlock for instance. There are supposed to be limits, but to be honest, the rules such as they are seemed inconsistent at times, arguable at others, and always flexible depending on the needs of plot (working on not depending on how much suspense was needed), making the ability bordering a bit too closely on a deus ex machine.
Those rules were emblematic of another problem I had, which was the frequently clumsy (and just plain frequent) exposition that runs throughout the novel. I lost track of how many times the narrative came to a screeching halt while someone (almost always Irene) stopped to explain a bit of the worldbuilding, or to sort of retcon an explanation of why she shouldn’t do A or B in a prior situation (or why she could in this situation).
And in quick fashion: characters sometimes seemed overwrought or demonstrative relative to the merits of the moment, the romance elements often struck me as implausible and a bit trite in their description, characterization didn’t always seem consistent, some plot points seemed contrived, and actions didn’t always make sense to me (not that I didn’t understand what was happening, but why the characters wouldn’t do something that seemed a lot more reasonable). I could give specific examples of all these, but don’t want to belabor the points.
Given all these issues with plotting and execution of craft elements, I could have been carried along by rich characterization or great prose. But the characters never really caught me and never subsequently grew on me. Kai seems more a repository of plot complications and Vale (the detective) a pretty two-dimensional Holmes, and where both are seemingly meant to have deeper characterization, those elements felt overplayed in their “mysterious motivation” and their overwrought emotion. The rogue Librarian brings up some nicely complex points (though ones that don’t seem particularly original) about the Library, but feels more stock Villain than a character who is a villain. Irene, meanwhile, is engaging enough, but never really compelling as a character.
This is a much longer review than most of my “didn’t like” sort, and I think it’s because I was expecting/hoping for so much more. Plus, I may be pre-emptively hitting the defense button a bit, because I wouldn’t be surprised if this book gets a lot of love (after all, readers tend to love books about books/reading). But honestly, I had a hard time pushing forward in this and considered stopping several times as I grew increasingly frustrated with the level of execution/craft. With such a great premise though, it’s possible Cogman’s craft will rise to meet the challenge of that premise in book two. I think, however, that I’ll let someone else, someone I trust a lot, make that call before I consider venturing back into the series.
Between trying to find the book, dodging the evil librarian who wants to pervert the purpose of the library, dealing with a jealous rival, working with this alternate world's great detective and dealing with steampunk gadgets loosed by another set of villains, Irene is kept busy and we readers are kept entertained.
Luckily, this book is the first of a series because I am eager to follow Irene on further adventures.
Is it a great book? No, I don't think so. The overall four-star rating is accurate, IMHO. It's a good read and kept my interest despite a slow start. Hopefully the character of Kai will develop more depth, as he's the least satisfying to begin with but could, with good writing, be quite the star of the whole series, due to who/what he truly is in this fictional universe.