The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I’ve actually read this novel quite a few years ago but never published this review at my usual haunts. This is especially sad since “The Invisible Library” went on to become one of my favourite fantasy series despite the steampunk elements which I don’t really like.
Thus, I was a wee bit sceptical: The premise of a secret society of librarians traversing alternate realities to collect rare books seemed almost too fantastical: With Dragons on the order-extremist side of the order/chaos spectrum and the Fae, fantastical creatures of all kinds, on the chaos-extremist side and the afore-mentioned Library somewhere in-between, shady and obsessive humans, this sounded rather… wild!
And yet, only shortly after our protagonist, Irene, a resourceful and quick-witted Librarian, embarks on her mission, I was smitten. Assigned to retrieve a unique version of Grimm’s Fairy Tales from an alternate London riddled with chaos, she teams up with the dashing and enigmatic Dragon Kai, who harbours a few secrets of his own…
Cogman’s world-building is nothing short of masterful. The alternate London we’re introduced to is a steampunk-inspired wonder, complete with airships, clockwork contraptions, and a healthy dose of Victorian intrigue. Even a real-life Sherlock Holmes counterpart comes along on the ride! The fantastical elements are deftly woven into the fabric of the story, creating a seamless blend of the familiar and the fantastical.
As a bibliophile and passionate reader, I found the concept of The Library utterly enchanting. This mysterious, interdimensional institution exists between realities and acts as a repository for the world’s knowledge. The Library’s Librarians are bound by a strict code, but the allure of forbidden knowledge constantly tempts them, adding a delicious layer of complexity to the narrative.
The novel’s magic system, referred to as ‘The Language,’ is equally captivating. Librarians like Irene are able to manipulate reality by speaking in this ancient and powerful tongue. The way Cogman explores the potential and limitations of this magic is both thought-provoking and genuinely thrilling.
Countering this is the Dragon magic which allows them to manipulate reality and bend it to their will. Their magic is tied to their emotions, and they can use it to create illusions, teleport, and even manipulate time.
Additionally, Dragons also have physical abilities that are beyond human capabilities, such as enhanced strength, speed, and senses. They are also incredibly long-lived and can take on human form if they choose to do so.
The Fae’s magic is tied to their nature as creatures of chaos. Their magic is rather unpredictable, chaotic at times, and can have unintended consequences. Like the Dragon’s magic their magic is also tied to their emotions.
However, the Fae’s magic is also tied to their word, and their ability to make deals and bargains. They can use their magic to create powerful oaths and contracts, which are binding and cannot be broken without severe consequences. This makes the Fae powerful negotiators and manipulators, as they can use their magic to influence others and gain the upper hand in any situation. This is also in-line with traditional fairy tales like the Grimms’ and adds to the overall allure of those characters.
What really brings this novel and the entire series to life, though, are the amazing characters: Irene is a strong, intelligent, and deeply relatable protagonist. She’s not without her flaws, but her dedication to her work and her sense of duty make her an admirable heroine. Kai, with his enigmatic past and smouldering charm, is the perfect foil for Irene, and their chemistry is undeniable and, uhm, manifests physically… The array of secondary characters, from the cunning and treacherous Alberich to the enigmatic and morally ambiguous Lord Silver, only serve to enrich this already engrossing tale.
Cogman’s writing style is both elegant and engaging, and her ability to seamlessly blend genres and balance humour, action, and heart is a testament to her prowess as a storyteller. The breakneck pace of the plot kept me on the edge of my seat, and the twists and turns were utterly unexpected.
In conclusion, “The Invisible Library” is a resplendent, enchanting, and downright exhilarating read that left me craving for more. Genevieve Cogman has crafted a world that captivates the imagination and characters that linger in the heart long after the final page is turned.
Meanwhile, I’ve long turned that final page (of the entire series even!) but I’m still hoping that Genevieve Cogman will – at some point – return to this fabulous multiverse and its inhabitants which brought me so much fun.
The one star I withhold is due to some rough edges in this first instalment which is nevertheless a great overture to an amazing series.
Four out of five stars!
Ceterum censeo Putin esse delendam
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The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman