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!

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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