Review: Codex Born by Jim C. Hines

Codex Born by Jim C. HinesFormat read: print book borrowed from the library
Formats available: ebook, paperback, hardcover, audiobook
Genre: Fantasy; Urban Fantasy
Series: Magic Ex Libris, #2
Length: 335 pages
Publisher: DAW
Date Released: August 6, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Five hundred years ago, Johannes Gutenberg discovered the art of libriomancy, allowing him to reach into books to create things from their pages. Gutenberg’s power brought him many enemies, and some of those enemies have waited centuries for revenge. Revenge which begins with the brutal slaughter of a wendigo in the northern Michigan town of Tamarack, a long-established werewolf territory. Libriomancer Isaac Vainio is part of Die Zwelf Portenære, better known as the Porters, the organization founded by Gutenberg to protect the world from magical threats. Isaac is called in to investigate the killing, along with Porter psychiatrist Nidhi Shah and their dryad bodyguard and lover, Lena Greenwood. Born decades ago from the pages of a pulp fantasy novel, Lena was created to be the ultimate fantasy woman, strong and deadly, but shaped by the needs and desires of her companions. Her powers are unique, and Gutenberg’s enemies hope to use those powers for themselves. But their plan could unleash a far darker evil…

My Review:

Born from a book. All the best ideas are born from the things we read. If you don’t think so, then Jim C. Hines Magic Ex Libris series probably isn’t for you. However, if you’re the kind of person who thinks that the best way to spend an idle afternoon (or an idle 5 minutes) is between the pages of a book, particularly fantasy or science fiction, then you’ll eat this series up with a spoon. Start with Libriomancer (reviewed here). Start now.

Codex Born is on the dark side of fun. On the one hand, we have your average geeky male librarian (which I realize is inherently not average, most librarians are female). But geeky Isaac is a particular kind of wizard, he draws magic out of books. Particularly magic things out of books.

He also ignores the rules a lot, and seems to have absorbed Jim Kirk’s lack of belief in the no-win scenario.

Libriomancer Isaac Vainio has the best of all geekily possible girlfriends. Lena Greenwood is a dryad. Somebody else got her acorn out of a book. So she’s someone’s fantasy version of a dryad. Think John Norman’s Gor and groan. Lena is meant to be a fantasy woman, her author’s vision forces her to make herself embody her lover’s fantasy.

But Isaac believes in freedom and personal responsibility. So Lena does too. Talk about a conundrum! A dilemma absolutely embodied by Lena’s other lover, the psychiatrist Nidhi Shah. Who also believes in women taking care of themselves, being independent and fighting for what they believe in. In order to embody what her lovers most desire, Lena must be an independent woman.

One whose existence is bound up with a tree.

Ever since Gutenberg created movable type, and the magic that is born by thousands of people reading the exact same immovable book, the Porters, the wizard society that he created, has controlled magic-use among humans.

But that’s not all the magic there is or has ever been. And Gutenberg has secrets upon secrets about all the other magic-users he has battled over the centuries.

Libriomancer by Jim C. HinesIn Libriomancer a dark power set up the Porters and the vampires to fight each other while it looked for a weakness it could exploit. In Codex Born it finds something better, a whole different branch of libriomancers that time forgot. A group that has been looking for centuries for a way to bring people preserved in books back to their bodies.

Lena Greenwood has proved that she can bring disembodied people back to life through her tree. She did it for Isaac, she can do it for them–if she’s motivated enough.

Dark forces, aided by a surprisingly monstrous array of earthly enemies, hunt down Isaac and Lena in an attempt to bring back the first libriomancers that Gutenberg ever faced.

The old man may have been wrong to kill them then, but it looks like he’s right now. The question is more about whether or not he’ll be able–and in time.

Escape Rating A-: Codex Born is very dark, and does not have a happy ending. Isaac finds himself questioning more and more of Gutenberg’s motives as this story goes on, and no wonder, the old man was well beyond “the best defense is a good offense”. He also seems to have lied by omission a lot, and he’s still doing it.

The best part of the story is Lena’s back story. We see where she came from, and her evolution from a simple dryad to the complex individual she finally became. It was a difficult journey with some surprising twists and turns. In her self-awareness, she doesn’t spare herself any pain.

One of the sadly fun bits was the whodunnit part. The protagonists discover, much too late, that they have been chasing Saruman and missed the clues to Sauron. Which doesn’t mean that Saruman was any less evil in his own right, just that he distracted everyone from the main evil. As he did.

This has the feel of a middle book. Not just because the ending is dark, but because it presages more to come. Evil is not defeated; it is not even temporarily vanquished, no matter what the good guys think. What we have is a minor pause for breath. Something horrible is coming, you can feel it. The question is whether Isaac can snatch victory from somewhere and defeat it. And whether Gutenberg intends him to.

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2 thoughts on “Review: Codex Born by Jim C. Hines

  1. I’m glad to read this review. I’d thought Imight skip this one because another reviewer found the treatment of Lena problematic. Now, though, I’m wondering if I would.

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