Review: The Masked City by Genevieve Cogman

Review: The Masked City by Genevieve CogmanThe Masked City (The Invisible Library, #2) by Genevieve Cogman
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, libraries, steampunk, urban fantasy
Series: Invisible Library #2
Pages: 336
Published by Roc on September 6th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

Librarian-spy Irene and her apprentice Kai are back in the second in this “dazzling”* book-filled fantasy series from the author of The Invisible Library.
The written word is mightier than the sword—most of the time...  Working in an alternate version of Victorian London, Librarian-spy Irene has settled into a routine, collecting important fiction for the mysterious Library and blending in nicely with the local culture. But when her apprentice, Kai—a dragon of royal descent—is kidnapped by the Fae, her carefully crafted undercover operation begins to crumble.   Kai’s abduction could incite a conflict between the forces of chaos and order that would devastate all worlds and all dimensions. To keep humanity from getting caught in the crossfire, Irene will have to team up with a local Fae leader to travel deep into a version of Venice filled with dark magic, strange coincidences, and a perpetual celebration of Carnival—and save her friend before he becomes the first casualty of a catastrophic war.   But navigating the tumultuous landscape of Fae politics will take more than Irene’s book-smarts and fast-talking—to ward off Armageddon, she might have to sacrifice everything she holds dear....

My Review:

invisible library by genevieve cogman us editionAs a great storyteller once said, “There’s power in stories, though. That’s all history is: The best tales. The ones that last. Might as well be mine.” This could either be a quote from any of the fae in The Masked City, or it could be the raison d’etre for the entire race.

The Masked City is just one front in the war between order and chaos in the multiverse that surrounds The Invisible Library.

Order is represented by the dragons, and chaos belongs to the fae. The Library does its best to maintain the balance.

These concepts of order and chaos do not represent good and evil in their absolutes. Just as in the Babylon 5 universe, both the forces of order as represented by the Vorlons and the forces of chaos known as the Shadows are interested in absolutes. Neither absolute is good for humanity as a whole.

The absolute of order is tyranny. But the absolute of chaos is neverending lawlessness, where might always makes right and the ends always justify any means at all. Neither is a particularly good place for me and thee.

In the multiverse of the Library, worlds exist somewhere on the spectrum between absolute order and total chaos. The Library is aligned with neither faction, and instead seems to confine its actions to the swath in the middle, where chaos and order exist uneasily side-by-side, and both dragons and fae occasionally bring their eternal conflict to places that are in contention.

The alternate where Librarian Irene Winters has taken the post of Librarian-in-Residence is one such world. The fae in this world have taken over the country of Liechtenstein, and the dragons seem to be mostly represented by Irene’s apprentice Kai.

But the fae, as chaos avatars, also love to sow chaos within their own ranks. And as near-immortals, they have eons to nurse their grudges and plot their revenge. Irene and Kai get caught up in one very sticky stratagem, forcing Irene to break the Library’s rules to rescue Kai from a nefarious kidnapping plot.

And prevent a war between the dragons and the fae that will wreck uncounted worlds and kill millions of unsuspecting humans.

Save the dragon, save the universe. All in a day’s work for an agent of The Invisible Library.

Escape Rating A-: Just like The Invisible Library, this is a story that always exists on the knife-edge of falling into its own chaos, but keeps leaping, dancing, and often careening out of the frying pan and into the fire. Irene is always within a whisper of failing and falling, but still manages to somehow move past the current obstacle to…the next obstacle. The story is like a platform-game, where the protagonist is always leaping to the next ledge and holding on by her fingernails.

The madcap nature of the adventure always reminds me of Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate, without, so far, the romance.

One of the subthemes in this story, and one that Irene is both caught by and sometimes manages to catch, is the concept of the power of stories. One of the interesting things about the fae is that they derive much of their power from either driving or becoming an integral part of a story. The most powerful create the story, and everyone around them finds themselves playing specific roles in that story. Those roles are often dictated by archetype. The story here is one fae’s attempt to become kingmaker, warleader and shadow puppeteer by driving the dragons into a war with the fae. Irene is constantly looking out for herself, to prevent herself from being cast as the “spy-assassin-enemy” or even worse, the “too stupid to live” ingenue.

This is a concept that was explored much more fully in Mercedes Lackey’s Five Hundred Kingdoms series, starting with The Fairy Godmother. In that series, the agency was the universe rather than an individual person or people, but the idea was the same at its heart. People were fated to live out roles in the collective fairy tale unconscious. Subverting those roles, or pushing them into a path more desired by the protagonist, was an uphill battle.

burning page by genevieve cogmanAs it is here for Irene. She finds herself being challenged at every turn, as each faction tries to sweep her into their narrative and out of her own. Only her bond with the Library keeps her from sinking. But in the end, she is forced to create stories that will sweep others into her wake, in order to prevent the upcoming Armageddon. I can’t wait to see what kind of trouble finds Irene (and Kai) next in The Burning Page.

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