The Invisible Library - Genevieve Cogman
The Library exists in a shadowy place where alternate worlds intersect. Librarians are agents for the Library who travel to various alternates by way of portals, in order to collect important works of literature. Some works must be collected because they can strengthen the bridge between the Library and the world in question. Some works seem vital to the world itself. And some are collected simply because they differ in some aspect from the other, original, or known versions of the text.
Irene is a Librarian. She travels to various alternates to collect various books. Sometimes, she can simply walk into a book shop and purchase a copy, then return home. Other times, the original must be obtained. More intricate scenarios require undercover identities, longer time windows, and specific, possibly-illegal talents. She’ll be travelling with Kai, a trainee who was recruited from his home world, in part because of some youthful – if shady - indiscretions. This is her first time functioning as a mentor, and she wonders why a trainee is being included in a job that will, no doubt, require some finesse.
Irene notes that the alternate world contains a good deal of technology, and a bit of magic. It is also infected by chaos; meaning that the natural laws of the world do not exclude the presence of the supernatural. On the surface, however, it appears to be Victorian-era London. The assignment is to obtain the original manuscript of an edition of Grimm. The volume in question is apparently in the safe of the owner. The owner, a vampire, was recently murdered. In addition, there are Fae agents interested in this volume, for reasons unknown. All of the above complicates things, of course. As does the fact that, once Irene gets to the safe, she finds that the book has been stolen by an infamous female cat burglar.
This book is one of those rare things: a story that you’d like to live in, or at least visit for a very long time. The characters, good and bad and in between, are all drawn very well; they have histories and motives that cause them to act/react the way they do. The world-building here is tremendous. The descriptions of places and people and the very atmosphere are so evocative that I could very easily picture The British Museum, draped in fog, with zeppelins tethered to the roof. Everything works the way it does for a reason, including the things that are infected with chaos. The plot is multi-layered and almost more than one book can safely contain. Almost. Each new layer builds nicely onto the next, expanding the scope of the story.
The story really begins firing on all cylinders when Irene and Kai meet Peregrine Vale, Earl of Leeds. Vale is an eccentric but very famous detective about London. His name – his mere presence - can open doors for Irene and Kai that might otherwise be firmly closed. He knows everyone who is anyone, and many people who are not. This is not to say that Irene needs too much help. She’s quite competent and resourceful; capable of keeping her head when things go haywire. Kai, too, seems oddly competent, and Irene begins to suspect that there might be more to him than meets the eye. The story is really a joy from beginning to end. If you love fantasy, detectives, thrillers, and books… you have found a home here.
Rating: 9 ½
ISBN# 978-1-101-98864-0 (trade paperback)