Book Review: The Burning Page by Genevieve Cogman (Invisible Library, book 3)

burning-page

My reviews for books 1 and 2 of the series can be found here and here.

Favourite quotes:

“I’m quite happy to steal a book from storage where nobody’s ever going to read it. But I do feel a bit guilty about snatching it mid-read from someone’s bedside table”.

“I have spent most of my life preferring books to people. Just because I like a few specific people doesn’t change anything”.

“The only problem is that it’s difficult to imagine something entirely new. We use the words and definitions of the past to shape our ideas. Something that is genuinely the next evolutionary step is unlikely to resemble anything we can imagine. Even the best books on the subject are limited”.

At the end of “The Masked City”, Irene Winters has stopped a war between the Fae and dragons. However, the mess she’s made in the process wasn’t appreciated by her superiors of the Library, so she’s currently on probation. Which means that she’s stuck with lowly jobs that are hardly prestigious, such as snatching books from heavily chaos-infested worlds that are dangerous. And that means that her apprentice Kai (who happens to be a dragon prince) is also stuck doing these jobs with her. His Royal Dragon Family isn’t too happy, needless to say, despite the fact that they respect Irene for saving Kai from his kidnappers. One such lowly job almost ends in Irene and Kai being burnt to death just as they are about to leave a chaos-infested world and return to the Library. Turns out that the fire wasn’t accidental, and the Library Elders are very concerned. It seems that the traitor Alberich is trying to do something to the Library, but nobody knows for sure what. Since Irene is on probation, she doesn’t have much influence, but her mentor is willing to listen to her insights and assigns her a job that’s slightly more prestigious than her previous one. Irene is to snatch a book from one of the alternates ruled by the Imperial Russia.

But before she can set for St. Petersburg, Irene has to stop by Vale’s London to check on him. In the process, she and Kai are attacked by giant babboon spiders, Irene is kidnapped by werewolves, and the two Librarians find their friend Vale acting too much like his literary counterpart. On top of that, Irene’s old flame, a Fae called Zayanna whom she met in Venice, makes an appearance. And everyone knows that you can’t trust the Fae…

Will Irene and Kai be able to complete their mission and save the Library and Vale in the process? Or will traitors, giant Asian hornets, snakes and worlds that don’t seem to listen to the Language end up being too much for them to deal with?

I must admit – I’ve missed Irene, Kai and the London gang since finishing “The Masked City” almost exactly a year ago. I adore the characters of the “Invisible Library” series, and the world Genevieve Cogman has created. The third installment of the series contains even more action than the previous one, and characters barely spend any time on research or planning. We saw at least some semblance of that in “The Masked City”, when Irene tried to get to know the Guantes’, but “The Burning Page” contains very few interludes like that. Irene is actually a prime example of “act first, think later” in this book. Or maybe things just tend to happen to this “unprincipled adventuress working as a book thief”. Indeed, only in the first third of the book, she:

  • Was nearly burnt to death;
  • Was nearly trampled by furniture and stairs;
  • Was attacked by giant spiders;
  • Flew on a dragon’s back;
  • Got ambushed by an overly-friendly Fae;
  • Got rejected by a potential bedmate after finding him high as a kite;
  • Got dragged to what essentially was a staff meeting and an internal affairs squabble;
  • Got kidnapped by a bunch of werewolves.

And a bunch of other things happened. I’m sure you can imagine that the rest of the book is just as eventful. And all Irene’s ever wanted was just a good book to read…

Despite the dangers faced by a Librarian, I still have a major case of job envy. Irene indeed does have my dream job – she gets to travel to parallel worlds and meet all kinds of characters, live in the biggest library in the world, practice her language (and Language) skills on a daily basis, and of course, she has access to any book she could ever want. The Language was my favourite plot device in the first two books, and I was thrilled to see it making a huge comeback in “The Burning Page”. It has a lot of potential that wasn’t realized in “The Masked City”, so it was wonderful to see Irene and other Librarians use it a lot more frequently. And its usage in a fight between a hero and a villain was absolutely epic!

“The Burning Page” is primarily an action-and-adventure novel set in a world established in “The Invisible Library”, but we do get to learn more about Irene. If “The Masked City” focused more on Kai’s character and his family, the third book allows us some insights into Irene’s past and gives her several opportunities for character development. One of the things I’m expecting from “The Lost Plot” (Book 4, out later this year) is getting to know Irene even more. Another is seeing how the Library is managing, given the internal conflicts we’ve received a sneak peak of in this book, as well as other obvious challenges it had to overcome in “The Burning Page”.

The setting is one of my favourite part of the “Invisible Library” series, and it was lovely to see more of the Library in “The Burning Page” – we barely got to spend any time there in “The Masked City”. And of course, it featured two of my favourite cities – London and St. Petersburg. I’m convinced that whatever world they’re a part of, they would always be stunning, atmospheric and breathing with history. So it was quite wonderful to see Irene and Kai in action in these two cities. I can’t wait to find out where they’d be going next!

“The Burning Page” is just as good as its predecessor, “The Masked City”, and I look forward to reuniting with our favourites in “The Lost Plot” in a few months! My rating is 8/10.

Dreamcast:

Irene – Rebecca Hall

Kai – Godfrey Gao

Bradamant – Indira Varma

Vale – James D’Arcy

Zayanna – Holliday Granger

Recommendations

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

“Rabbit Back Literature Society” by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläi

“Magic Ex Libris” series by Jim C. Hine

“The Librarian” movie trilogy

Have you read “The Burning Page” yet? How about other books in the series? Share your opinions in the comments! 🙂

Book Review: The Masked City by Genevieve Cogman

masked city

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. My review of the first book of the series can be found here.

We left Irene at the end of the last book just as she took on a permanent position of a “Detective” (Undercover Librarian) in one of the alternative Londons and she and Kai began working alongside their old friend Peregrine Vale. Things are going as well as they can be expected when you have a thirst for solving crimes, have taken the names of two very cunning heroines of classic literature (Irene Adler and Lady Winter) and your apprentice is a dragon. However, the fact that he is a dragon becomes quite problematic when he is suddenly kidnapped, probably by the Fae who are the sworn enemies of dragons. Unfortunately, this means that Irene has to turn to one of the least pleasant characters she knows – Lord Silver that we’ve met in the last book. He is as sleazy as ever, but he is somewhat helpful – apparently Kai’s been taken to The Masked City (Venice) for the purpose of starting a war with dragons. In short, the war would mean eternal chaos across all the alternates and all hell would quite literally break loose. Rescuing an apprentice is quite different to what Irene normally does – she usually steals books, not dragons! How much flirting, story-telling and sword-fighting would Irene have to do to free Kai and save the worlds? And would she ever simply get the chance to sit down and read a good book, which is what she’s wanted all along?

 

Irene, Kai and Vale are back in this installment and they’re as kick-ass as ever. “The Masked City” was one of my most anticipated sequels of last year but I’ve been saving it for New Year’s Day – it goes quite well with a glass of champagne and chocolates left over from Christmas, I have to say. It was quite lovely to be back in the world I began missing as soon as I finished the final page of “The Invisible Library”, and it was wonderful to see Irene again. Naturally, my major job envy hasn’t gone anywhere, although I had hoped for more time spent in The Library than I got at the end. Nonetheless, I love Italy, and Irene’s Venice was an excellent setting. This installment, for me, was less about wish fulfilment and more about enjoying a terrific action and adventure story. Indeed, “The Masked City” focuses a lot more on the action than the world-building, unlike “The Invisible Library”, but there was still a lot of room for character development and we learned quite a bit about certain aspects of the setting (well – settings).

The book’s central conflict is the war between the elitist nations of the Fae and the Dragons that’s been going on across all the alternates, as Irene learns. Lord Silver and the Guanteses (the Guantes’?) are the two sleazy villains that believe that the world quite literally revolves around them. The Fae are, however, much worse in that aspect. I’ve known quite a few people like that – they always believe that they are the protagonist of their own story and everyone else are just background characters. Silver and Lord and Lady Guantes are exactly like that, except their narcissism is amplified tenfold. The Dragons (Kai’s family) are less unpleasant, but they aren’t exactly warm and cuddly either.

These characters, and of course our favourite protagonists, are one of the best parts of the novel. I was also thrilled to see my favourite element of the last book – The Language – make a spectacular come back. At the start of the book, I was, however, quite exasperated with Irene’s excessive use of it and was waiting for it to blow up in her face. Revealing whether or not that’s what happened would be a very big spoiler though ;). It was good to see Irene make smarter decisions as the book progressed, and it was even better to see that “The Masked City” continues playing with tropes and somewhat breaking the fourth wall – a tradition that started in “The Invisible Library” and which I enjoyed immensely. “The Masked City” is quite self-aware in the way fans of this series would be familiar with by now and would certainly appreciate. We see this self-awareness in character development, the setting and of course, the research that Irene does in order to solve everyone’s problems.

“The Masked City” is a great sequel to a terrific first installment of the series, and I cannot wait to find out the title of the third, and hopefully not the final, installment of “The Invisible Library” series. My rating is 8/10.
Favourite quotes

“I just can’t stay away from a good library,’ she said, keeping to English. ‘It’s an addiction with me. Do you have the same problem?”

“‘Oh, I admit that not all stories have happy endings, but people prefer what they’re used to. If you were to actually ask them, nine out of ten would prefer a storybook existence to a mechanistic universe where happy endings never happen.”

“‘Most people don’t want a brave new world. They want the story that they know.”
Recommendations
You might like “The Masked City” if you liked:

“The Library of Shadows” by Mikkel Birkegaard
“Magic Ex Libris series” by Jim C. Hine
“The Great Library” by Rachel Caine
“Librarian” movie trilogy

Have you read “The Invisible Library” series? Did you enjoy it as much as I did? Do let me know!

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