Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: alternate history, fantasy, historical fantasy, mystery, urban fantasy
Series: Invisible Library #6
Published by Ace on January 7, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository
In the latest novel in Genevieve Cogman’s historical fantasy series, Irene and Kai have to team up with an unlikely band of misfits to pull off an amazing art heist—or risk the wrath of the dangerous villain with a secret island lair.
A Librarian’s work is never done, and once Irene has a quick rest after their latest adventure, she is summoned to the Library. The world where she grew up is in danger of veering deep into chaos, and she needs to obtain a particular book to stop this from happening. No copies of the book are available in the Library, so her only choice is to contact a mysterious Fae information broker and trader of rare objects: Mr. Nemo.
Irene and Kai make their way to Mr. Nemo’s remote Caribbean island and are invited to dinner, which includes unlikely company. Mr. Nemo has an offer for everyone there: he wants them to steal a specific painting from a specific world. He swears that he will give each of them an item from his collection if they bring him the painting within the week.
Everyone takes the deal. But to get their reward, they will have to form a team, including a dragon techie, a Fae thief, a gambler, a driver, and the muscle. Their goal? The Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, in a early twenty-first century world, where their toughest challenge might be each other.
This series is pretty much frying pans and fires all the way down, but this entry has an added fillip of archetypal James Bond movie villains to put a bit of extra zing into this increasingly wild ride of a story.
And there are dragons. There are definitely dragons. In this particular entry in the series, there are dragons on all sides. Irene is, of course, accompanied by her own personal dragon, her apprentice-turned-lover Kai.
While dragons in this universe are creatures of order, and Kai is an actual prince among his kind, the side that Kai is generally on – as well as nearly always at – is Irene’s.
But he’s not the only dragon in this one. And not all of them are exactly on the side of the angels. Or even all on the same side. In fact, it could be said that one of the dragons is more than a bit chaotic – at least insofar as anarchy generally equates to chaos – even if the dragon in question doesn’t see it that way.
The Secret Chapter is both a caper story and a followup to the previous entry in the series, The Mortal Word, without being directly dependent on its predecessor. Well, Irene’s and Kai’s actions are influenced by those previous events, but the caper they find themselves in the middle of doesn’t directly relate to the treaty between Dragons and Fae squabbled over during that story and finally signed at the end.
Instead, this one at first hearkens back to earlier books in the series – and earlier escapades in Irene’s past. Irene is sent to the lair of an archetypal fae collector and information broker – cue the James Bond music – to negotiate the acquisition of a book from Mr. Nemo’s collection that will stabilize the world where Irene went to school.
And that’s where the caper comes in. Mr. Nemo collects lots of interesting things – and people. As a powerful fae, it’s both who he is and what he does. He gets and keeps his power from embodying that archetype.
In return for the book that Irene and the Library desperately want, Mr. Nemo requires that they, along with a motley crew that he has previously assembled, steal a particular painting from a specified world and bring it back to his lair.
The caper, the theft, and the way it works – and doesn’t – may remind readers a bit of the TV series Leverage. It’s the old story of taking a thief to catch a thief, but with multiple twists – not always expected.
This is one of those stories where things are far from what they seem. The thug isn’t a thug, the prisoner isn’t a prisoner, the painting isn’t just a painting. It’s also the “secret chapter” of the book’s title. It’s a secret chapter in the history of the dragons – a secret that no dragon should ever want to let out.
But then there’s that anarchist…
Escape Rating A-: If the pattern for the previous book in this series was that of a murder mystery, the pattern for The Secret Chapter is the caper movie crossed with James Bond-type villainy. It’s the motley crew carrying off the heist for the best of all possible reasons, like Leverage. With a villain like Blofeld or Goldfinger pulling the strings behind the scenes. (I’m pretty sure I remember a Bond movie or two that included that scene with the sharks…)
But underneath that set up, there are more interesting games afoot. Or a-wing in the case of the dragon members of the barely together party.
There is more than one “secret chapter” in this story. Come to think of it, both Irene and Kai are dealing with secret chapters of their lives and histories that have all the impact of a bomb in this entry in the series.
(Take that as a hint, don’t start the series here. Begin your journey at The Invisible Library and be prepared to get lost in the stacks.)
The secrets that Irene exposes – or feels exposed by – are all personal. She and her parents have to resolve Irene’s discovery that she was adopted – and that they never told her. Her sense of herself is still reeling a bit. That the book she needs to retrieve will prevent the world where she went to school, one of the few stable places in her chaotic history, from falling into absolute chaos gives the story a personal stake for her.
At the same time, one of the many, many things in this caper that are not what they seem is the painting that they have to steal. It IS a painting – but it isn’t the painting that they think it is. Or not just that painting. Hidden underneath the masterpiece is something else altogether – a half-finished painting that is intended to undermine every so-called history that the eternal, immortal dragon rulers have ever told about themselves. Whether the revisionist history of the painting is a truth that they’ve been covering for millennia or propaganda created for the purpose of destabilizing the dragons is anyone’s guess.
From Irene’s perspective the truth doesn’t matter. Destabilizing the dragons will cause chaos throughout the multiverse that the Library protects. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, of the one – or of the truth.
I can’t wait for further truths to be revealed – or concealed – in future books in this series. Book 7 is already in the works!