“The atmosphere of the place soothed her automatically; the rich lantern lights, the sheer scent of paper and leather, and the fact that everywhere she looked, there were books, books, beautiful books.”
Irene works for The Library, her job is to take important books from every universe to preserve them. Normally her job is relatively simple – a bit of spying, a bit of deception, and always a bit of thieving – but this time she’s stealing a book that could reveal dangerous things. Not only is the book important to The Library, but it’s in a chaos-infested world, filled with Fae, werewolves and the odd vampire.
Lumbered with a new assistant in Kai, a mysterious student who doesn’t fit any of her perceptions, she must trust him or they’ll lose the book forever.
Irene is forced to work with a keen-eyed detective and her worst enemy to unravel the clues of the books’ location before a centuries old threat gets to it first. She’d much rather be reading about such adventures than being a part of one.
Only mild spoilers in this one.
I’ve been a reading slump every since I finished Crooked Kingdom but this had been sitting on my to-read list on Goodreads since last summer so I thought I’d give it a go.
At first this book took me a while to wrap my head around, the world was actually an unlimited number of worlds which just made it all the more confusing for me to place the characters in their settings. My first thought was it was based in a Victorian setting, but this turned out to be false as soon as Irene (our narrator) started talking about necromancy and magic and flying gargoyles. My image of this world didn’t settle until Irene was sent on the mission to find the book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales with an added story from what we know.
Though it was a gripping opening with Irene stealing a book and running from hell-hounds, I was left lost and rather confused. I’ve recently read a lot of books that instantly laid out the world in a precise but easy manner, Bardigo’s Six of Crows and Mass’s A Court of Thorns and Roses, this books lacked this. Thankfully it was immersive enough to keep my interest and eventually (about 5 chapters in) the world begun to make sense.
Cogman invents her own unique version of magic in the Language, a way that Librarian’s command the world they’re in to do what they want. They can open locks, make floors swallow people whole, and even bring stuffed animal displays to life. I particularly enjoyed the rules that Irene had to navigate to use the Language as it makes it more realistic (as realistic as magic can be). Chaos-magic also took me a while to understand but it comes slowly through the book as most things did.
All the way through the book we are entirely in Irene’s head, and yet we never leave third person. Free indirect speech is handled quite masterfully in this book and it makes Irene a more dynamic character. She is brave, snarky but can be quite cold towards the people she interacts with. Though she is forced to be detached because of her job; in and out without complications or much personal interaction. However, she grows throughout the novel and begins to trust the people who she drags along into her investigation, (yay for character development) becoming especially fond of Vale, Cogman’s answer to Sherlock. There is also Kai, who seems to slip from one personality to the other without seeming to settle for quite a while. His only characteristic is his loyalty to Irene, until the reason for his standoffish personality is revealed. Which makes him a lot easier to understand.
The book is very plot based, which works as it was a mix between a fantasy novel and a classic work of detective fiction as Irene pieces together intricate clues to track down the mysterious book. It was clever how the whole thing played out, though I am left with questions, ones that will hopefully be addressed in the sequel, even if the synopsis makes it out to be a completely unrelated tale (aside from including the same characters).
It was a delightful change of pace for me as a more mature fantasy novel. The romantic questions were answers quickly and put away in favour of focusing on the events, which was good to see someone not distracted by a romantic entanglement. There was a bit of gore which made me squirm, I love it but I can’t deal with it at the same time, and everything was written in such good detail that once my head was in the story I could see everything perfectly. Well… as well as you can imagine a 7 foot tall robot centipede when you’ve never seen on before in your life. I’m definitely looking forward to reading the sequel.
A mix between The Librarians, A Darker Shade of Magic and all those well loved detective novels, would certainly recommend.