What gives a reader most joy is coming across a book that seems to be written exclusively for them. It is a pleasure to become so involved with the book, that it becomes difficult to distinguish between oneself and the characters. For me, The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman is one such book.
To begin with, anyone who knows me, knows that I love libraries. I’m a sucker for books with the words ‘library’ or ‘book’ in the title. Secondly, I read something somewhere about this being a bit like Doctor Who, and one of my favourite Doctor Who episodes is set in a library. Thirdly, the description of the book reminded me of The Librarian movie series, and the TV series, The Librarians, both of which I really love. Lastly, if I were a interdimesional book thief/spy, then I would be the main character, Irene. It is as if this book were about a fictional me.
So you see, The Invisible Library and I are a match made in heaven.
Irene is a spy who works for a Library that is a gateway to many different parallel worlds, but is separate from them all. The Library has its own rules and the purpose of its existence is to preserve knowledge from all these worlds in the form of books that are unique to those worlds. When the book begins, Irene has just returned from one mission and is looking forward to relaxing for a bit. But her boss/senior Librarian, Coppelia, sends her out on another mission immediately –to a steampunk, chaos filled version of Victorian London, to recover a stolen Grimm manuscript unique to that world. Also, on this mission she has to mentor a new recruit, Kai, who is a bundle of mysteries himself. Add to this mix malicious creatures of Fae that have overrun this alternate London; a self-serving rival Librarian who was also her ex-mentor; a Great Detective who is an ally, and a mysterious super villain who is the arch nemesis of The Library, and Irene has her hands full.
It is needless to mention at this point how much fun this book is. It is the right mix of funny, nerdy and crazy. It is also a fantastic mix of genres, including sci-fi, urban fantasy, steampunk, supernatural, detective/mystery, adventure, spy novel, etc. On the whole it is a great piece of speculative fiction.
Cogman’s writing is entertaining and her world-building is top notch. The characters are memorable and though they have a basis in some popular tropes (the Great Detective, the co-worker with secrets, the tough but caring mentor, etc.) Cogman’s approach to them is fresh. I have already mentioned how much I identify with Irene. Kai, Vale and Bradamant are people I would like to have as friends.
One problem with the book is the pacing. It seems too slow at times, and at others it is too fast. The mix of genres and ideas seems overwhelming at times, making it seem like too much is happening. Perhaps because it is a debut novel, there are a hints of immaturity in the writing. However, it doesn’t take away from the charm of the novel. This book succeeds in spite of its flaws.
With its air of childishness and playful absurdity, The Invisible Library is the book to look forward to, for readers looking for a light, fun read.
The Invisible Library, published by Roc, is forthcoming on June 14th 2016.
FTC disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for this honest review.
Note: This book reminded me of Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho. Both have a central mentor-mentee relationship; both are set in an alternative, Victorian London; both have dragons; both have a kickass female protagonist.