REVIEW: The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman
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…
Dear Genevieve Cogman,
I learned about your book’s existence while lurking at the File 770 blog. As evidenced by my grade, I really enjoyed it. I was drawn to the book because the blurb promised that the Library (with capital L) would be at the front and center of the plot. I know I cannot speak for everyone, but the library was one of my favorite places to visit when I was growing up and I would imagine that holds true for many book lovers around the world. Well, so far the first book vastly exceeded my expectations and I hope that books two and three will not disappoint me.
We meet Irene when she is working as a spy for the Library, trying to steal a book which the Library wants for its collection. This mission takes place before the mission referred to in the blurb. As we will learn later on, this was a much less dangerous mission than the one Irene would work on next, but when the book starts one would not be able to guess that. Irene is at a magical school for boys, and while she manages to get the book, let’s just say that everything did not go smoothly for her.
I really enjoy when a book does not start with info-dumping and instead puts me in the middle of the action. I do not mind a little confusion in the beginning as long as the author orients me fairly quickly in the world she has created, and I think the writer managed to do this with gusto.
We learn that the mysterious Library’s mission is to collect books from the many alternate worlds which exist in this universe, in order to strengthen ties with these worlds. Apparently librarians/spies do not always steal the books, sometimes they are able to locate and buy copies, but often enough their missions are dangerous. As the story unfolds, we learn that a lot of these worlds are being consumed by chaos and the blurb accurately describes what this chaos entails. Apparently the Library exists between the worlds and functions as stabilizing force for the worlds with which the Library has sufficiently strong links (this is one of the reasons the Library wants specific books from these worlds).
I thought the mythology of this book was fascinating. For example, some well-known fantastical species are used as two opposite elements of the dichotomy – some are agents of order and some are agents of Chaos. I do not remember ever reading a book where these species were used in a similar way. It was just such a creative twist, in my opinion. Certainly this is not the first story where a Library is a character, but what this Library can do (and I suspect we have not seen most of it yet) is so interesting and at times I did not expect that at all.
I really liked Irene. I imagine that many book lovers can relate to why Irene is working for the Library and why this is the kind of life she likes living.
“Irene shut the book reluctantly. Of course she had to send it to Coppelia first, for inspection and evaluation, but perhaps after that she could get her hands on it again. There was nothing wrong with being curious about how a story turned out, after all. She was a Librarian. It went with the job. And she didn’t want great secrets of necromancy, or any other sort of magic. She just wanted—had always wanted—a good book to read. Being chased by hellhounds and blowing things up were comparatively unimportant parts of the job. Getting the books—now, that was what really mattered to her. That was the whole point of the Library—as far as she’d been taught, anyway. It wasn’t about a higher mission to save worlds. It was about finding unique works of fiction and saving them in a place out of time and space. Perhaps some people might think that was a petty way to spend eternity, but Irene was happy with her choice. Anyone who really loved a good story would understand. And if there were rumours that the Library did have a deeper purpose—well, there were always so many rumours, and she had missions to complete. She could wait for more answers. She had time.”
I liked that she was so devoted to her work; I have always found it an admirable trait. I thought that she was competent but not arrogant. She made mistakes, but she always fought hard and gave it her best try. I have not met a character like her for quite some time.
When her superiors give her a new mission, which takes place during most of the story (the first mission only occupies the first several pages of the book), it is the first time she is entrusted with a trainee named Kai. I liked Kai *a whole lot* and as the blurb states, he has his own secrets to keep. Some of these secrets are eventually revealed and I was very pleased with the revelations. Kai is strong and talented in what he does, but I was extremely pleased that throughout the book Irene remained solely in charge of the mission. As much as Kai helps, she was making the decisions for both of them with Kai following her orders ( most of the time anyway ?). I just so rarely see it. That does not mean that Irene did not ask for help from Kai when she needed it, by the way, and it does not mean that her decisions were always perfect, but she came as close to being a competent spy/librarian while still having things to learn (she is not a Senior Librarian yet ) as I could wish for.
You probably want to know whether there is a romance in the book. The answer is not yet and quite frankly I would hope not, but my guess is that one is coming sometime in the next book. Kai clearly likes Irene enough to proposition her (to his credit he does it once and does not do it again after receiving a negative answer), and I got the impression that the only reason she said no was because she was concentrating on getting the job done. But we shall find out, I guess. And there is another guy who could be a possible candidate for Irene’s affections in future books.