The Invisible Library
Rating: 5 stars
‘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 nearly bought it at the beginning of the year but ended up getting this copy from the library instead a couple of weeks ago. I read it cover to cover in a couple of hours, I’m not even sure I moved. I’ll definitely be buying a copy of my own when I have the chance and the sequel is already on my to read list.
I love this book, like really really love it. It’s so many of my favourite things – spies, libraries, books as power, dragons, alternate universes, a dash of steam-punk, women being awesome, detectives, secrets – all rolled into one glorious story. I’m going to try my best not to put any spoilers in this because I don’t want to damage anyone’s enjoyment!
Ok, I will concede that libraries as magical institutions have been done before, but they’ve never been done like this and they’ve certainly never been done this well. For instance, I’ve tried to watch The Librarian films/TV Series a few times (you know, the ones with Noah Wyle?) because I should love them – it’s a fun concept after all – but sadly they’re always disappointing. But The Invisible Library is what those films and books should have been and then some.
The world-building is superb. The blend of magic and technology, the influence of chaos on order and the history of the library as an institution are all really interesting. I like that we only have a partial view because Irene is only allowed a partial view. I enjoyed the mentor/mentee relationship between Irene and Kai because it allowed them to discuss aspects of Library lore without it ever feeling like an infodump.
Now, the characters:
Irene is a wonderful character, a practical woman with an enquiring mind. She’s good at her job, she loves the Library and believes in it’s mission to preserve books and prevent their contents from being abused. But she’s not blind, she knows there’s something else going on and at the root of it all – she just wants to be able to read all the books that she collects.
Kai’s a lot of fun too and I liked watching him move through all their different disguises, adapting his personality to each one. I also love what Cogman does with his origin story and I’m really looking forward to learning more about it in the coming books. They’re both active members of the partnership and it’s really enjoyable to see them going along.
The side characters are equally good. I loved the detective (and indeed Irene’s slight obsession with detectives), the thief, Irene’s fellow librarians and of course the villains. As in all good spy novels there’s a player here that you just don’t see coming. There is also a brilliant battle at the end where a lot of factions come together and it’s just gold.
This is the book for anyone who loves books, who respects the power that words have, who likes strong women and characters with intriguing pasts. It’s also the book for someone who wants to see an inspired use of reptiles – those crocodiles, honestly.
I don’t usually read series that are only just starting out, I prefer to have a few novels to plough through at once, but I’m glad I did here and I’m so looking forward to the next book!