Review: The Lost Plot by Genevieve Cogman

Review: The Lost Plot by Genevieve CogmanThe Lost Plot (The Invisible Library #4) by Genevieve Cogman
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: alternate history, fantasy, libraries, steampunk
Series: Invisible Library #4
Pages: 367
Published by Ace Books on January 9th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

After being commissioned to find a rare book, Librarian Irene and her assistant, Kai, head to Prohibition-era New York and are thrust into the middle of a political fight with dragons, mobsters, and Fae.

In a 1920s-esque New York, Prohibition is in force; fedoras, flapper dresses, and tommy guns are in fashion: and intrigue is afoot. Intrepid Librarians Irene and Kai find themselves caught in the middle of a dragon political contest. It seems a young Librarian has become tangled in this conflict, and if they can't extricate him, there could be serious repercussions for the mysterious Library. And, as the balance of power across mighty factions hangs in the balance, this could even trigger war.

Irene and Kai are locked in a race against time (and dragons) to procure a rare book. They'll face gangsters, blackmail, and the Library's own Internal Affairs department. And if it doesn't end well, it could have dire consequences on Irene's job. And, incidentally, on her life...

My Review:

Like the rest of the Invisible Library series (start with the first book, The Invisible Library, and settle in for a marvelously good time!) The Lost Plot has a strong flavor of the old movie serial “The Perils of Pauline”. I would say “out of the frying pan and into the fire” but that phrase just isn’t sufficient to describe Librarian Irene Winters’ many (many, many) hair-raising adventures.

Either those frying pans are bubbling on top of an institutional sized range, with frying pans as far as the eye can see, or it’s an endless stack of frying pans on fires, getting progressively hotter as they go, all the way down.

Irene gets in trouble a lot. To put it another way, Irene has lots of adventures, in the sense that adventure is defined as something that happens to someone else, either long ago, far away, or both. I’d love to have a drink with her, but I wouldn’t want to be her.

In this particular entry in the series, Irene starts out attempting to carry out a simple retrieval mission for the Library. For once, she’s even planning to conduct it above board – buying the book the Library wants rather than just stealing it. This was her first mistake, but certainly not her last.

Irene’s last mistake is undoubtedly going to either be fatal or see her as the head of the Invisible Library – possibly both. But not yet. Nowhere near yet.

This time, Irene finds herself stuck in the middle of dragon politics, a situation that up until now she has carefully tried to avoid at all costs. But this time, as is usual for Irene, even though she doesn’t go looking for trouble, it inevitably finds her.

Getting involved in dragon politics might get her killed. And that might be the least bad of the many available possibilities. It’s almost certainly going to cost her relationship with her apprentice Kai. A relationship that Irene has attempted to keep as loosely defined as possible, because she doesn’t want to lose Kai in her life in any capacity, even though Kai is himself a dragon.

More dangerous all around is the possibility that in the fallout from this ever-growing clusterf**k, the Library will lose its not merely prized but absolutely vital neutrality in the endless conflict between the dragons and the fae, who respectively represent order and chaos. Because its only in the middle ground between those two vast forces that human beings can thrive. If the Library loses its neutrality through thoughtless political machinations (or Irene’s inability to counter those machinations) there’s not much hope left.

The needs of the many, as always, outweigh the needs of the view, or of the one. And it’s up to Irene to find a way to meet those needs, no matter what the cost is to herself.

Again.

Escape Rating A: I used the Star Trek paraphrase for multiple reasons. Irene is always at the sharp end of the spear, in danger of losing something (or many somethings) that she holds dear in order to preserve the balance. She’s always in a “mission impossible” situation, where the Library will cut her loose and disavow any knowledge of her actions if things go wrong.

But it’s the setting of this particular entry that really made me think of Star Trek. The alternate world in which Irene finds herself this time is an over-the-top version of America during Prohibition, complete with goons with “tommy guns” on every corner. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the Original Series episode A Piece of the Action, which has a similar setting.

One of the interesting things about this series as a whole is the way that it has eschewed the traditional conflict between good and evil for the much more interesting and nuanced balancing act between order and chaos. This is the same battle that played out in Babylon 5, and illustrates yet again that neither of those forces are good or evil per se, but that extremes of both are bad for humanity.

Irene is as intrepid a heroine as ever, always running and dancing as fast as she can to stay a half step ahead of the doom that is inevitably following her. I absolutely love all of her adventures and can’t wait for more.

Reviewer’s Note: I loved this book, but it is difficult for me to review. It is one of the books that I read at my mother’s bedside while she was in hospice. I needed something that would take me mentally away from the circumstances but still leave me reasonably present for the inevitable. I got lost in The Lost Plot and it proved to be a perfect distraction.

Review: The Burning Page by Genevieve Cogman

Review: The Burning Page by Genevieve CogmanThe Burning Page (The Invisible Library, #3) by Genevieve Cogman
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, libraries, steampunk, urban fantasy
Series: Invisible Library #3
Pages: 336
Published by Roc on January 10th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Librarian spy Irene and her apprentice Kai return for another “tremendously fun, rip-roaring adventure,” (A Fantastical Librarian) third in the bibliophilic fantasy series from the author of The Masked City.
 
Never judge a book by its cover...  Due to her involvement in an unfortunate set of mishaps between the dragons and the Fae, Librarian spy Irene is stuck on probation, doing what should be simple fetch-and-retrieve projects for the mysterious Library. But trouble has a tendency of finding both Irene and her apprentice, Kai—a dragon prince—and, before they know it, they are entangled in more danger than they can handle...   Irene’s longtime nemesis, Alberich, has once again been making waves across multiple worlds, and, this time, his goals are much larger than obtaining a single book or wreaking vengeance upon a single Librarian. He aims to destroy the entire Library—and make sure Irene goes down with it.   With so much at stake, Irene will need every tool at her disposal to stay alive. But even as she draws her allies close around her, the greatest danger might be lurking from somewhere close—someone she never expected to betray her...

My Review:

invisible library by genevieve cogman us editionThe Burning Page isn’t coming out until tomorrow, but THIS was the book I wanted to read over the weekend. And I’m glad I did.

Irene is a representative of the Library. That Library, and her missions for it, are described in the first madcap book in the series, The Invisible Library. The Library binds all the worlds of the multiverse together in invisible chains, linking all of them to Library, to reality, and to each other in a powerful and symbiotic weave.

The various worlds exist on a loose continuum between total order and absolute chaos, and the Library exists to preserve the balance, attempting to make sure that neither faction ever gains complete ascendancy.

This isn’t purely altruistic, or purely in the pursuit of power. Living beings, particularly living humans, need a bit of both to survive and thrive. Humans do best in those worlds that are somewhere around the midpoint. Worlds that are too orderly fall into tyranny and stagnation, to the point where even the avatars of order, the dragons, cannot survive in them. Likewise, worlds of complete chaos, the realms of the fae, are also anathema to humans, who become mere puppets of the most powerful fae and have no wills, lives or identities of their own. They are all supernumeraries in other beings’ dramas. Even the fae need at least a tiny bit of order, even if it is only the framework provided by the stories they act out.

Neither is a good way to live. At least if you are human. And the Librarians, at least so far, are all human.

masked city by genevieve cogmanIrene, on probation after the events in The Masked City, is still the Librarian-in-Residence on the chaos-tinged world where Peregrine Vale exists as the local avatar of the “Great Detective” in a London shared with fae and werewolves, and where zeppelins navigate pea-soupers that never quite thin.

Irene’s apprentice Kai, the dragon who would be a Librarian, is there with her. But who is mentoring whom, and who is protecting whom, is always a point of negotiation.

Meanwhile, Irene is being hunted by the rogue Librarian-turned-chaos-agent Alberich, who hopes to recruit Irene and replace the Library with a chaotic institution of his own invention. Alberich wants power, and Irene wants stability. Or so she thinks.

What she has discovered is a taste for adventure – and it might be the death of her and all she holds dear – if she can’t manage to be adventurous enough.

Escape Rating A-: The wild ride begun in The Invisible Library continues with death-defying adventures that span from a too-orderly Imperial Russia to a werewolf den under Irene’s own London. She is kidnapped, drugged, jailed and very nearly seduced, always jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

If you like your adventure as a series of disaster-defying feats of derring-do (with occasional forays into politics and idiocy) this series is an absolute winner from beginning to end. But start at the beginning, not just for the setup, but because the roots of the story here in The Burning Page were planted in the first two books, and are just coming into bloom in this one.

There’s a lot going on in this story, as there is in all of the books in this series so far. The action pauses only briefly, and then just to lay down potential plots for the next books. Not to mention potential plotting in this one.

While The Burning Page is a story where all the chickens from the previous books in the series come home to roost, it also further the develops the strange and often strained relationship between Irene, Kai and Vale. No, we’re not at a threesome. We’re also, thank goodness, not in a love triangle. Kai, as a dragon, wants to protect Irene. As much as he cares for her, he is still having a difficult time recognizing that while protecting her would make him feel better, it would make her either run far and fast or become something and someone she has no desire to be. It would be a negation of her essential self. On that other hand, Irene took her nom-de-guerre because she has an understandable fascination with Sherlock Holmes analogs. How much of what she feels for Vale has to do with him, and how much with who is resembles is not something that she is able to resolve.

She is also a person who has generally preferred the company of books to people, and while her people skills are rusty, she is making her way along as her worldview markedly changes. She is supposed to care for the Library above all, and is discovering that perspective altered.

lost plot by genevieve cogmanPersonally, I think she’s finally figured out that a good job won’t love you back, but we’ll see how that turns out in future books.

But the bloom is definitely not off this rose. While chaos has not, and never can be, defeated, its current schemes have been temporarily put into abeyance by the end of The Burning Page. I was very happy to discover that there will be more to come in future books, even if we have to wait a bit. The next chronicle of Irene’s adventures, The Lost Plot, can’t be found soon enough!

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
Goodreads

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.

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
Goodreads

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.