Book Review: The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

invisible library

Do you guys remember the “Librarian” movie trilogy? A very cute grad student turned badass librarian Flynn Carsen, played by Noah Wyle saving the world one rare artifact at a time? He meets a vampire Kate Beckett on one of his adventures?

Well, if you love those movies, no matter how terrible they actually are, you should get a copy of “The Invisible Library”!

Irene is a Librarian for the mysterious Library, the main purpose of which is to harvest fiction from all the realities, or “alternates”. Life as a Librarian slash Spy slash Bibliophile is all Irene’s ever known and ever wanted. Her new assignment involves training a shady apprentice while retrieving a rare edition of The Grimm Fairytales from one of the alternate Londons. However, when she and Kai arrive to meet with that alternate’s resident Librarian Dominic Aubrey, they discover that the book, which belonged to Lord Wyndham the vampire, has already been stolen by a mysterious figure from Irene’s past. Needless to say, Irene’s mission has just become a lot more complicated. Getting involved in a tangled web of politics, magical “chaos” – knowledge and balance’s mortal enemy – and most dangerous of all, a former Librarian turned traitor who may or may not also be after the book is the last thing she expected. After all – she had just wanted a good book to read and “getting chased by hellhounds and blowing things up was a comparatively unimportant part of the job”! Why is everyone and their mortal enemy so interested in that particular edition? And what’s a Librarian to do when her apprentice turns out to be a Dragon, even though they are natual to the order of all the linked worlds?

I have all kinds of crushes on “The Invisible Library”! For starters, the world-building. The world created by Ms Cogman is addictive, captivating and so elaborate that it is a shame to just waste it on one book, which is why I’m thrilled that this is just the first book in a series. The primary setting of the series seems to be a mysterious Library – a place that is all about finding “unique works of fiction and saving them in a place out of time and space”. The Library is treated as its own world, with its own laws and regulations, social hierarchy, treaties and agreements, and – my favourite part – its own language. I am a linguist and I have been since I was about six years old, so it always warms my heart when a book makes a foreign language into an important plot device, or even its own character. The author explains one of the problems us linguists face every day really well – “the problem with an evolving language that could be used to express things precisely was that, well, it evolved”. With most languages borrowing terms from English and other languages, it is sometimes hard to keep up. But, Cogman is, again, spot on in relation to this – “a simple, impersonal, uncontrollable need to know” is definitely something every linguist, and of course every reader at one point or another, comes to terms with. The power of the Language is explored quite well in this installment, but I do want more and more of it from the next ones (see my remark above about “the need to know”)! Did I mention I have a world-building crush on this series?

The fact that “The Invisible Library” breaks the fourth wall on several occasions, as well as the way it is done, was another factor why I couldn’t put this book down. Sometimes, breaking the fourth wall can make or break a work, and it is hard to toe the line. Ms Cogman, however, does so masterfully, which isn’t that surprising, given her background in gaming writing. She makes “The Invisible Library” so incredibly “self-aware” of being a “mash” of genres and all kinds of things that at no point in the book are these many things taken too far to the point of being ridiculous or over-the-top. And even if so, it is more than made up for by the general atmosphere of the book that would inevitably suck in any bibliophile! I was surprised to discover that I quite like the writing – usually I prefer “flowery, purple prose” in literary mysteries, but the fast pacing and straightforward language work quite well in this case.

I also have a massive crush on the main character’s job. She is, as I said above, a Librarian, but not the kind you would normally meet in a normal library (unless you’re reading “The Club Dumas”). She is a Librarian slash Book Thief slash Undercover “Detective” of sorts – her job involves hunting down rare pieces of fiction from all over the place, including myriads of alternate worlds. The job is not without some sinister undertones, of course – it can quite easily turn into an obsession, and if you live inside the Library and barely step into the alternates, you don’t age. It is also viewed by Irene and others as a “duty” to the Library, an institution that they don’t actually know that much about. Despite that, I know for a fact that I would never, ever turn down a job like that. Perhaps I’m being a romantic when I say that, but it’s true. This entire book is like one big wish fulfillment for me and I can’t wait for more.

I am filing “The Invisible Library” under both “Steampunk” and “Urban Fantasy” because it has elements of both – steampunk and urban fantasy elements are used both as plot devices and ways to define the genre of this book, which works perfectly for me since I don’t like limiting a book to a single genre. My rating for “The Invisible Library” is 9/10.

Favourite quotes

“It is my theory that the greater truths underlying life and death can best be understood as a parable – that is, as a fiction.”

“Sudden death was easy to cope with, seeing as you had no time to ponder. But their impending crash and burn over the British Museum was leaving too much time for dread, with an inevitable fiery doom at the end. Every second seemed to stretch out into an eternal moment of panic.”

“Are either of you two young people skilled with alligators? Do they teach alligator training in Canada?”

Dreamcast

Irene – Rebecca Hall

Kai – Godfrey Gao

Bradamant – Indira Varma

Vale – James D’Arcy

Recommendations

You might like “The Invisible Library” if you liked:

“The Library of Shadows” by Mikkel Birkegaard

“Magic Ex Libris series” by Jim C. Hines

“Librarian” movie trilogy

“Librarians” – the TV series

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