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Invisible Library: Genevieve Cogman

I really wanted to like this book. It's about the Library, which is an organization set apart in time and space, which agents that go out into various alternate universes to retrieve books. Sometimes undercover, sometimes timetravelling. Irene is suddenly sent out to retrieve a dangerous item, accompanied by a rookie agent she's never met.

One thing any Librarian will tell you: the truth is much stranger than fiction...

Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, a shadowy organization that collects important works of fiction from all of the different realities. Most recently, she and her enigmatic assistant Kai have been sent to an alternative London. Their mission: Retrieve a particularly dangerous book. The problem: By the time they arrive, it's already been stolen.

London's underground factions are prepared to fight to the death to find the tome before Irene and Kai do, a problem compounded by the fact that this world is chaos-infested—the laws of nature bent to allow supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic to run rampant. To make matters worse, Kai is hiding something—secrets that could be just as volatile as the chaos-filled world itself.

Now Irene is caught in a puzzling web of deadly danger, conflicting clues, and sinister secret societies. And failure is not an option—because it isn’t just Irene’s reputation at stake, it’s the nature of reality itself...

(from Amazon's blurb)

I think one of the biggest annoyances was the prose. I never quite could immerse myself. It was so weirdly self-aware and wanting to be clever, and tried to be wink-wink with the reader, without actually being clever or well-written enough. I like DWJ's prose, because she has a knack of writing phrases that fit perfectly, and she's charming. Without those two, it's like a joke that keeps falling flat, over and over again. And that exacerbated every last other thing in the book - characters that are reanimated copies of current popular archetypes, the overindulgence, the emphasis on the parts that have been well-trodden (steampunk London) and not the novel (the Library!)

Wait, I have to talk about the overindulgence first. I love libraries, I love books, I think they're worth archiving and keeping and all that. I picked up this book because a library + time travel sf/f is pretty appealing. But it felt like an interesting fun idea that never got enough substance behind it. Yes, female librarian time traveller! Cool! But it was populated with barely-there characters and setting, and moreover the Library's mission seemed incredibly selfish and narrow, as well as pretty opaque. So the whole book felt like a cool idea tossed out and never made real.

Then there's the Library itself. Libraries are still routinely written off/thought to be useless these days/stuffy/useless/over-budgeted and it's especially infuriating when I know that the person saying this to me would totally be in a great position to use the library's resources. Trying to go from that to the all-powerful Library was difficult because there was barely any information on the Library - it's all wrapped into hush-hush bureaucracy and the protagonists are bundled out of the Library into the allegedly much more interesting alternate universe. The Library's supposed mission is to collect and archive exceptional books, including similar books that are different across universes. Also, yes, I am cynical about these things, but where's the funding coming from, where are the supplies like food coming from, how are the people at the top benefitting? We know almost nothing! Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next have Litera-Tec ops, too, but there's good solid charm in them too - I could read an entire book of Uncle Mycroft's inventions.

CHARACTERS THAT WERE LIKE OTHER MORE POPULAR, BETTER WRITTEN ONES: the bookish lady. Hey, I am one. But like the bluestocking romance heroine, you need to go beyond the proscribed traits. The rakish young man who actually has an unexpected super-powerful family/trait. The detective, patterned exactly after Holmes - look, I'll cut a little slack here, because of the alternate-universes thing, it might actually be Holmes in another iteration (though Holmes is far more interesting - he has the cleverness, but also the flaws like the vanity, the indolence, the impatience; and of course he has the affection for Watson.) But the only different or interesting thing about this one is his composure under fire, which never gets much play.

There's fantasy kitchen sink, but it never gets much expanded on; in this iteration, there are vampires and werewolf and fey with the usual rules about blood and silver and iron. Which is great! Except it's only briefly touched on. (Also, I'm interested that the fey, with their inability to deal with iron, can even survive in steampunk London. The whole city is covered and supported by it! But except for the safe that they try to open, and the Brotherhood of Iron that opposes them, there's not much about that.)

And oh, the book they're sent to retrieve - an iteration of Grimm's fairytales. Argh. Fantasy is overwhelmingly Tolkien influenced and therefore extremely western leaning, blah blah blah much better analysis has already been written about the prevalence of Euro-centric settings. But even if it has to be Grimm's fairytales, we are still ending up in steampunk London! I feel like this would be fine if not everything else were practically paint-by-numbers as far as worldbuilding went. Please, at least you could have set it in alt-Central-Europe somewhere. Not even an interesting passage about translation, and come on, a library would be interested in that.

The book ends with Irene being assigned to staying in that universe, for now. I keep saying this but I'm sick of faux-Victorian literature. I want to know more about the Library! And there wasn't even emotional payoff with Kai and Irene, which I bet will be dragged out across several books...

Crosspost: http://silverflight8.dreamwidth.org/180068.html.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 31st, 2017 05:54 am (UTC)
Aww, this sounded like a promising book I wanted to check out, but I suspect a lot of the things that bugged you about it would annoy me, too. But I guess it's better to have my expectations appropriately lowered :)
Jul. 31st, 2017 03:58 pm (UTC)
As a friend of mine says....the key to happiness is lowered expectations :P Perhaps with that, you'll enjoy it more than me?

And I am vaguely interested in plowing through the sequel...in the hopes that something more interesting might arise. Really, I do want to know more about the Library.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )



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