REVIEW: The Masked City (Invisible Library book #2) by Genevieve Cogman
The written word is mightier than the sword—most of the time…
Working in an alternate version of Victorian London, Librarian-spy Irene has settled into a routine, collecting important fiction for the mysterious Library and blending in nicely with the local culture. But when her apprentice, Kai—a dragon of royal descent—is kidnapped by the Fae, her carefully crafted undercover operation begins to crumble.
Kai’s abduction could incite a conflict between the forces of chaos and order that would devastate all worlds and all dimensions. To keep humanity from getting caught in the crossfire, Irene will have to team up with a local Fae leader to travel deep into a version of Venice filled with dark magic, strange coincidences, and a perpetual celebration of Carnival—and save her friend before he becomes the first casualty of a catastrophic war.
But navigating the tumultuous landscape of Fae politics will take more than Irene’s book-smarts and fast-talking—to ward off Armageddon, she might have to sacrifice everything she holds dear….
REVIEW CONTAINS SOME SECONDARY SPOILERS FROM BOOK ONE.
Dear Genevieve Cogman,
I really enjoyed the first book in this series, which I reviewed here at DA, but I only read this second book recently (it was out in the UK for a while before it was released in the US).
Readers should not be reading this book as a stand–alone, because the first book set up the world and introduced the main characters. We definitely learn more about how things work in this story and I am sure we still have not learned everything about the mysterious Library and people who work for it. And is everything we learned so far even true?
We learned from the first book that the Dragons and Fae species of these worlds are enemies, because they are the agents of opposite forces. Dragons are Order, Fae are Chaos. There are many alternative worlds in the universe of this series and the worlds where the Fae get too much power become more and more unstable and may eventually slip into Chaos. The Library is neutral, or so we were told in the first book, and the Library tries to strengthen the unstable worlds by buying/stealing important books from those worlds, which lets it maintain links with those worlds. Basically, the Library is supposed to be a bastion of stability and neutrality, and when its stores books from different worlds it stabilizes those worlds through the connections.
Librarians are told not to trust the Fae, because the Fae love to be the main characters in their own stories. They relegate humans to cardboard supporting characters and the humans become walking stereotypes. Now, while I am very fond of this explanation, I cannot say that I fully understand the exact danger this poses for humans. Does this mean that they stop being alive and just become characters in the Fae’s stories? I am not sure, all I know is that I like to imagine that the Fae can spin the power of storytelling and turn it in something unsavory for the humans.
On the other hand, we also learn that while Dragons are an antithesis for Fae in the universe that these series created, the high-order worlds may not be ideal either – they are too prone to becoming authoritarian worlds. What the Library does is maintain balance in the worlds – some order, some chaos and overall stability seems to be their favorite combination. I could be wrong though.
Kai is kidnapped very early in the book and it is clear that he is kidnapped by Fae, who want to start a war with Dragons. When Irene and Vale (detective from the London where Irene and Kai were stationed) go to their local Fae Acquaintance, Lord Silver, for information he tells them that Kai was kidnapped by another Fae, whom Silver clearly dislikes and wants to see fail. Librarians are not supposed to make any alliances with Fae, but Irene is desperate to save Kai and she is not making an alliance exactly, she is just accepting Silver’s help in arranging transportation to that world – which as the blurb states is an alternate version of Venice. Irene has to go alone because that Venice is a world where the Fae rule and accordingly it is on the high chaos end of the spectrum. It would be very dangerous for Vale as a “mere human” to go there, because he could be contaminated by Chaos. The only reason Irene can even try is because she serves the Library and has additional protections, and also Silver offers some of his own protection. Not that one can trust such offers from the Fae, but she does not have much choice, and she accepts his offer with her eyes open.
Irene spends the vast majority of this book trying to get to alternative-Venice, and when she got there she tries her best to save Kai and stay alive. Overall I enjoyed the story and was entertained. I still really like Irene as a character. She is strong and smart and devoted to her job, she knows her limitations, and she knows that there are some things she is afraid of and she should be afraid of. Having said that, she never gives up, or at the very least she knows she did her best before it is time to run from the enemy. I also really appreciate that while she knows that she would like to go to bed with Kai, she does not do so because he is her apprentice and she is his mentor. Having said that, I am growing more and more fond of that idea – not that I think that her affair/ relationship with Kai is in any way a done deal in the future based on the books I read.
I also still really enjoyed the writing and appreciated the occasional humorous touches, like here when Irene does some fast mental calculations before fighting some werewolves:
““Now, don’t you make any trouble for us, duckie, and you won’t get hurt,” another of the men said. Like the rest of them, he had thick brows, hairy palms, and unsettlingly yellow eyes. Wonderful. Yet more werewolves. “We’re just going to take you for a little walk. There’s a gentleman as wants you to stay out of his affairs for a few days. You behave yourself, keep quiet, and nothing bad’s going to happen to you.” Irene mentally cringed at the dialogue, lifted straight from Plots Involving Heroines Too Stupid to Live, Unless Saved by the Hero.
She must have looked unconvinced, as the man’s eyes narrowed. “You don’t want us to do this the hard way, duckie,” he snarled. “No,” she said, attempting helpless meekness. “I’ll behave . . . Please don’t hurt me.” “And no saying none of them spells,” another said. “We’ve been told as how you can do sorcery.” Ah, so clearly they’d been warned about the Language, in a way that would make sense to them. But it looked as if she could get away with some speech.”
I have one complaint, and this is something I was surprised that I disliked. Before this book I had just read two or three where my main complaint was that I was bored out of my mind. In this book, weirdly enough, I felt the opposite. I often felt as if I could not catch my breath and it was not a good thing. I became exhausted reading this story, and several times I had to put the book down simply because my heart started pounding. It is not that the fights never stop, because they do, and occasionally we see Irene doing something else, but I felt like the tension kept growing and growing. I know it is supposed to brow till it gets to the highest point, but for me it was just too much tension. For some reason the author did not feel it was enough that I *know* that Irene’s only purpose of being in this world is to save Kai, it is not enough that I am perfectly aware that Kai was kidnapped, no, we are treated to two scenes of Kai suffering from the torture (nothing too graphic – but Dragons can’t function well in the too high Chaos prone worlds even under normal circumstances and Kai was hurt when he was kidnapped).
I am not trying to decide what scenes needed or did not need to be in the story, I am just saying that to me this all added up to an overall feeling of too much tension, and I was annoyed enough to lower the overall grade to B because this is something I felt throughout the story .