Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: fantasy, historical fantasy, steampunk, urban fantasy
Series: Invisible Library #7
Published by Ace on November 26, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Bookshop.org
A professional spy for a mysterious Library which harvests fiction from different realities, Irene faces a series of assassination attempts that threaten to destroy her and everything she has worked for.
Irene is teaching her new assistant the fundamentals of a Librarian's job, and finding that training a young Fae is more difficult than she expected. But when they both narrowly avoid getting killed in an assassination attempt, she decides that learning by doing is the only option they have left - especially when the assassins keep coming for them, and for Irene's other friends as well...
In order to protect themselves, Irene and her friends must do what they do best: search for information to defeat the overwhelming threat they face and identify their unseen enemy. To do that, Irene will have to delve deeper into her own history than she ever has before, face an ancient foe, and uncover secrets that will change her life and the course of the Library forever.
The Invisible Library series could also be titled, “The Perils of Irene” – without any sort of a stretch at all. Irene’s adventures aren’t just “out of the frying pan into the fire” but frying pans and fires all the way down. Until the last jump lands Irene (and company) straight into a pit where it’s always darkest just before things turn completely black. Then a light shines at the end of the tunnel and it’s always an oncoming train.
Which Irene and her friends manage to board and escape – only to have both the train and the station it crashes into transform into another frying pan and another fire. Each and every one bigger and hotter than the last.
And so it goes with this seventh book in the series, as Irene and her friends are still dealing with the fallout from the previous adventure in The Secret Chapter, only to discover that the mess that they thought they’d wrapped up hasn’t really begun. It’s just moved itself to a new home. Theirs.
Irene’s adventures tend to be caper stories. Well, they at least begin as caper stories. The opening scenes are of Irene sent somewhere questionable and doing something slightly dodgy, in order to “acquire” a book that the Library needs and that Irene has been ordered to get.
Sometimes (rarely) Irene’s methods of acquisition are on the relatively up and up – either an exchange of money or an exchange of more-or-less above board favors. When this story begins, Irene is in Guernsey in her analog of Victorian London intending to buy a copy – or possibly THE copy, of Le Morte de Merlin by Thomas Malory. (If the title sounds familiar, that’s because it’s this particular world’s foundational book of the Arthurian legends – except they’re based around Merlin instead. As if Mary Stewart’s The Crystal Cave were both rare and historical canon.)
Howsomever, as so often happens in the parts of Irene’s life that we are privileged to witness, the slightly clandestine but otherwise above board goes pear-shaped. The meeting place is attacked, the sellers are assassinated and Irene and her new apprentice escape the clutches of evil by the skin of their teeth – WITH the book firmly in hand.
While the beginning of this story is far from atypical for the series – and very much part of the reason that I love it so much – the farrago of death, danger and derring-do that Irene and her friends find themselves in this time turns out to be a walk through some very dark places.
Because it’s not just a book or even the future of the Library that’s at stake this time. What opens as just another one of Irene’s “little” adventures turns out to be the opening act in a fight for her very soul.
Escape Rating B: This turned out to be more of a mixed-feelings read than I was expecting. Because I absolutely adore this series and have been waiting all year for this book, so I expected to fall into instantly and love every minute of reading it.
But, but, but, it took me a while to get stuck back into Irene’s world, longer than usual. That may partly be ‘tis the season as well as ‘tis the year 2020 and everything is weird. I think it was also that the opening of this story reads like so many of the other books with tiny variations, that it felt like it started a bit in the middle – as in the opening is very dependent on events in the previous book – and that this book represents a change in direction for the series – or at least an expansion in scope as well as a contraction in focus – and it took a bit to switch from just another caper to “the end of the world as we know it” to “the end of Irene’s world as she knows it”. Which is not the same thing at all.
Also, Irene spends a lot of this story not just being reactive instead of proactive – because that’s normal – but because she’s reacting in confusion and obfuscation to the point where I as the reader felt more confused and obfuscated than I either liked or expected. Irene has a reputation for “getting shit done” but spent the beginning and middle of this book flailing around and worrying about her new apprentice instead of just dealing with shit.
At least it felt that way.
Then all of the various enemies’ schemes collapsed into (finally) one big ball of wrong instead of a whole lot of bouncing little balls of wrong and the whole story took flight even as Irene’s life crashed and burned.
The ending pushes the whole story off the original “light” rail and onto a much deeper and darker track. It’s going to be marvelous and probably heartbreaking and I can’t wait until this time next year when we’ll probably (hopefully) get book 8 in the series.
One final note, when I saw the title of this entry in the series, it sounded familiar – only because the title is oh-so-similar to another book that came out this fall, written by a real-world librarian and archivist. That similarly titled but not similar in subject book is Dark Archives: A Librarian’s Investigation into the Science and History of Books Bound in Human Skin by Megan Rosenbloom. You’d think it wouldn’t be remotely relevant. But it sorta/kinda is in a much creepier way than I could ever have expected.
Read this series, starting with The Invisible Library, and you’ll see.