The Invisible Library

“Paranoia was one of the few habits that was worth keeping.”

Genevieve Cogman

Well, this was disappointing.

The Invisible Library has possibly the most awesome concept that I have ever read ever. The titular Library is a multidimensional book repository, a Library between the worlds which sends out its highly-trained and rather badass Librarians to collect unique works of fiction to feed its already impossibly enormous collection.

How cool is that? Seriously?

Unfortunately, we don’t spend more than about twenty pages in the Library, and most of the novel sees Irene, a Librarian of middling rank, and her mentee Kai go into a steampunk version of Victorian London to collect a rare edition of Grimms’ Fairy Tales. Things go badly very quickly, as villains galore appear to thwart their progress and otherwise swan around being villainous.

Fine. I can get behind steampunk shenanigans almost as readily as I can get behind a multidimensional Library (though on the whole I’d rather have the multidimensional Library).

Except I can’t, because the book is just woefully dull.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s not from a lack of action that The Invisible Library suffers. If anything, it’s from too much action: just when things begin to look inconvenient for Our Heroes, a convenient ruckus appears to distract everyone and otherwise add interest and excitement to all of our lives. The magic systems are uninventive (the Librarians’ Language comes straight out of Eragon, and the bolding used to telegraph it is annoying) and, worse, inconsistent: a frequent pattern in the book sees the protagonist extracting him- or herself from a tricky situation by using the old “it only works in x situation” excuse, which is basically authorial backpedalling. We also get a lot of conversations that go “And I didn’t do that before because…” which worked in Stardust, admittedly, but Cogman doesn’t have the inventiveness or charm to pull it off here. The lesson of all which is: if you have rules for your magic system, damn well keep to them.

Characterisation is minimal and in one case troubling: I feel like calling your one Indian character Mr Singh – not even a first name – is signalling his Indian-ness a bit too loudly for comfort. Cogman does a much better job with Irene’s black mentor Coppelia, who doesn’t have a stereotypical name and who has actual character traits to boot. Not many, it has to be said, but some.

I may be feeling particularly curmudgeonly at the moment because of impending exams – it’s possible I might have enjoyed The Invisible Library more had it found me at a different time. Certainly, if you’re a fan of steampunk and looking for an action-heavy, quick-moving read, this book might be your thing. But for me? I want more Library, fewer magic tricks, better storytelling.

Thank you kindly.

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