Publisher: Tor UK.
Paperback, 329 pages.
Release date: January 15th 2015.
Rating: 3½ out of 5.
Reviewed by: Arianne.The first installment of an adventure featuring stolen books, secret agents and forbidden societies - think Doctor Who with librarian spies!
Irene must be at the top of her game or she'll be off the case - permanently...
Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, which harvests fiction from different realities. And along with her enigmatic assistant Kai, she's posted to an alternative London. Their mission - to retrieve a dangerous book. But when they arrive, it's already been stolen. London's underground factions seem prepared to fight to the very death to find her book.
Adding to the jeopardy, this world is chaos-infested - the laws of nature bent to allow supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic. Irene's new assistant is also hiding secrets of his own.
Soon, she's up to her eyebrows in a heady mix of danger, clues and secret societies. Yet failure is not an option - the nature of reality itself is at stake.
I love the concept of this book. “Think Doctor Who with librarian spies”? It’s a premise straight off my Reader-Blogger Wishlist! It’s the perfect blend of historical fantasy and magical realism with the slightest of nods to science fiction, and it has the added bonus of a gorgeous cover, too.
It centres around protagonist Irene, who works for the titular Library. As an agent of this mysterious and surprisingly shady organisation, Irene’s destined to spend eternity searching for and saving books from thousands of alternate realities so that they may be stored safely in vast archives outside of linear space and time. In fact, her life’s work is ticking along very nicely, thank you very much, until new recruit Kai – well, I say new recruit; he’s actually been there for five years – cannons onto the scene. So far, so intrigued.
To Cogman’s credit, the world-building of The Invisible Library is pretty exceptional. Detailed and full of secrets, the influence of other well-known genre authors is clear. The Invisible Library also gets an entire star for its inclusion of fantastical creatures, including fae and – most importantly, since I’ve been asking for more books about them all year – dragons.
The writing and pacing are solid, though they don’t crackle with restless energy or sparkle with stunning prose. Unfortunately, the execution of the book itself let me down.
One of the best things for me about urban and high fantasy is that it has the ability to make you sit up and think “Wow, I don’t know if these characters are going to make it out alive at the end of this!” in a way that most contemporary fiction doesn’t, but I didn’t see that here. Nobody wants to see their favourite characters dangling off the edge of a cliff too often, but you have to admit it makes for a more emotional, gripping story.
Irene and Kai are fabulous on paper, but they don’t come alive as they should. Maybe it was because I was expecting more sub-plots or tension between them, or even a romance, but essentially, they’re just not real enough to root for. Kai had a lot of potential, with his leather jacket-wearing antics and questioning nature, but he, like Irene, seems to have no flaws. I don’t care how beautiful he is or how capable she is; if they’re not making mistakes or being challenged by the plot, I’m not interested.
The Invisible Library is a story that has, in its own words, been “not only spotlessly laundered” but “ironed and starched”. There are some fabulous flashes of humour, but I wanted more. This is not a book which advocates living life out loud; it reads more like a manual than an adventure. I wish I could say I loved it, but honestly, the more I read of The Invisible Library, the more my reading experience became about what wasn’t there instead of what was. What if the writing style had been more irreverent, joyful or humorous? What if it had been more diverse and relatable? What if there had simply been higher stakes?
In short: with an incredible premise and brilliant world-building, The Invisible Library ticks all the boxes — unfortunately, merely ticking boxes isn’t enough to make a book spring to life. The writing is solid, but it’s weighed down by facts, figures, statistics and too-long descriptions. There’s undeniable series potential but I don’t know if I’d return for a sequel.