Review: The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

Review: The Invisible Library by Genevieve CogmanThe Invisible Library (The Invisible Library #1) by Genevieve Cogman
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, libraries, steampunk, urban fantasy
Series: Invisible Library #1
Pages: 352
Published by Roc on June 14th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

Collecting books can be a dangerous prospect in this fun, time-traveling, fantasy adventure from a spectacular debut author. One thing any Librarian will tell you: the truth is much stranger than fiction...   Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, a shadowy organization that collects important works of fiction from all of the different realities. Most recently, she and her enigmatic assistant Kai have been sent to an alternative London. Their mission: Retrieve a particularly dangerous book. The problem: By the time they arrive, it's already been stolen.   London's underground factions are prepared to fight to the death to find the tome before Irene and Kai do, a problem compounded by the fact that this world is chaos-infested—the laws of nature bent to allow supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic to run rampant. To make matters worse, Kai is hiding something—secrets that could be just as volatile as the chaos-filled world itself.   Now Irene is caught in a puzzling web of deadly danger, conflicting clues, and sinister secret societies. And failure is not an option—because it isn’t just Irene’s reputation at stake, it’s the nature of reality itself...
FEATURING BONUS MATERIAL: including an interview with the author, a legend from the Library, and more!

My Review:

The Librarian (Discworld)
The Librarian (Discworld)

If Thursday Next (from The Eyre Affair) and Flynn Carsen, or if you prefer Jake Stone, Ezekiel Jones or even Jenkins (from the TV show The Librarians) had a love child, with Alexia Tarabotti (Parasol Protectorate), The Librarian from the Discworld (Ook!), Isaac Vainio (Libriomancer) and Dr. Skye Chadwick (Displaced Detective) serving as godparents, you’d get something like The Invisible Library.

Yes, I’ll explain this. Sort of.

This isn’t exactly a story about a magical library, even though the magical library is at the heart of the story. It’s more of a quest story, and a finding yourself story, with a bit of a coming of age story thrown in. There’s also an aspect of a Sherlock Holmes pastiche just to make things really, really interesting, as if the above wasn’t enough.

Our intrepid Librarian is Irene. (All Librarians take nicknames when they are inducted) That Irene named herself for “the Woman” in the Sherlock Holmes stories, Irene Adler, is no accident. Irene, like so many of us, has a penchant for Sherlock Holmes stories. She also seems to have a thing for Sherlock Holmes’ analogs in the alternate universes she visits on behalf of the Library.

The Library sends its Librarians out on missions to recover unique books from all the alternate worlds. As we and Irene discover in this tale, the reason for recovering said book is not always made apparent to the agent. For that matter, most of the things that the agent really, really needs to know to survive the mess they are about to be thrown into are often not revealed to the agent beforehand.

So Irene is sent to a chaos-infested alternate of Victorian London. The chaos infestation manifests with the presence of things that shouldn’t really be but do obey logical, if occasional farcical, rules. So there are vampires and werewolves in this London, along with all the dirigibles that any steampunk heart could desire. And it seems as if the Fair Folk, the fae, are controlling both scientific development and adding to the chaos.

Irene is tasked with begging, borrowing or if necessary stealing this world’s own particular copy of a collection of the Brothers Grimm. There is a story in there that the Library wants very badly. And so, seemingly, does everyone in that world, including the Library’s great arch-enemy and traitor, Alberich.

All that Irene has to aid her in her quest are her considerable wits, her apprentice Kai, who is definitely much more than he appears, and the aid of the local Sherlock, the Earl of Leeds. The very forces of chaos themselves are arrayed against her.

She’s not quite sure whether she’s been thrown out as mere cannon-fodder, or if there is a traitor behind it all. And if chaos consumes her mind and soul, she may not even care about the resulting destruction of worlds.

Escape Rating A-: The Invisible Library is the wildest of wild rides. Just like the chaos forces that Irene battles, the story often feels like it is in danger of careening off its tracks, only to right itself and race to the next potentially deadly crisis..

At the same time, a reader of fantasy will be able to see some of the bones behind this story. Because most of those bones are pretty damn awesome in their own rights, that’s not necessarily a bad thing at all.

Just like “The Library” in The Librarians, the Invisible Library is a place that has access to anywhere it needs at any time. Its doors open anywhere and anywhen in all of the multiverses. Speaking of multiverse libraries, the Librarian in the Discworld has access to “L-space” the vast network of books where all great libraries are ultimately connected. It does feel a LOT like that, especially since Irene can use ANY library on the world she is visiting to connect to the Invisible Library as a temporary branch.

In the Displaced Detective series by Stephanie Osborn, her heroine creates a device that can explore those very same multiverses, and she also has a penchant for Sherlock Holmes. Skye Chadwick finds an alternate universe where Holmes was always a real person, and drags him to our 21st century to keep him from falling to his death at Reichenbach. Vale, the Earl of Leeds, is a living Holmes with his same methods, but just a bit more charm.

In Thursday Next’s world, books have power, and changing the words in those books can change the world. Irene’s mission is to find a book that either links the Library to this world, or has the power to change the nature of the world, the Library, or both. The world of the Parasol Protectorate is also a steampunk Victorian London filled with incredible adventures that includes dirigibles, vampires and werewolves. Alexia would be right at home on Irene’s mission. They’d probably get along like a house on fire – and might possibly set one on fire to aid in their escape from one disaster or another. And let’s just say that Isaac Vainio and Irene have pretty much the same job, and leave it at that.

But in all of those worlds, as well as the world of The Invisible Library, the story plunges from one desperate escape to another, always on the knife-edge of falling into chaos. And all along its madcap journey, it shimmers, shines and sparkles.

Hopefully, I’ve told you everything you need to know about why you should read this book, without actually spoiling a thing. But if you love books about the power of words and the power of books, The Invisible Library is well-worth checking out.

Reviewer’s Note: I have seen some places where The Invisible Library is categorized as a Young Adult Book. After having read it, I have zero clue as to why. Because it isn’t. Not that young adults who love any of the cited fantasy works won’t love this book, but this book is no more a YA book than they are.

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3 thoughts on “Review: The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

  1. Wonderful review! I think you captured the appeal of the book much better than I did. I had a few problems with it but overall I enjoyed it, especially the complexity and the world building — and as you say, the wild ride!

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