Author: Genevieve Cogman
Hello hello, it’s been a bit since I was on here but I promise I have a super solid reason: I finished this book last Monday, got my hands on Empire of Storms last Tuesday, and I’ll let you deduce the rest from there. In fact, the only reason I’m on here now is because I finished Empire’s nearly 700-page count on Sunday and have mostly recovered from the soul-shredding (at least enough to do a write-up of something else).
But that’s a post for another day. On a lighter note, if you love books and libraries (hands up!), there is no reason why you wouldn’t enjoy the fantasy romp that is The Invisible Library.
Most of us had at least one lesson in elementary school analyzing how fairy tales change across cultures – Cinderella with a slipper of glass, or fur, or gold, or any number of things. The same principle holds true in The Invisible Library, except instead of differences occurring in literature across continents, it spans entire worlds. The Library is a realm unto itself, existing outside of time and space. The books within link it to an infinite number of alternate Earths,* and within each alternate, slightly different versions of books exist. The goal of the Library is to collect these versions and catalogue their differences, thus making it the Grand Poobah of all libraries.
Enter the Librarians! These universe-hopping agents of the Library use espionage, trickery and outright thievery to acquire desired tomes. They pledge their entire existence to the Library, and have a swag tattoo across their backs to prove it – a tattoo I really want to see an illustration of so I can get one myself.
Kidding, mom, kidding.
Irene is a junior Librarian just back from acquiring a magical tome, and is looking forward to a little rest before being sent out into the field again. Unfortunately, her supervisor has other ideas. Not only is she being sent to retrieve a book in a world infested with chaos magic, she’s been saddled with an apprentice, Kai, to drag along on the dangerous journey.
The London they arrive in is not the one we know. It has a steampunk/fantasy vibe, with zeppelins, a suave Fae lord, and giant mechanical bugs that have a proclivity to attack at the most inopportune times. Irene focuses all her energy on swiping the book from the house of a recently deceased vampire, but when she infiltrates the residence, it’s already gone.
Thus begins a madcap quest to untangle the book’s location, which becomes increasingly difficult as several local entities are equally interested in getting their hands on the tome in question. The pervasive presence of the corrupting chaos forces allow author Genevieve Cogman to take an “everything but the kitchen sink” approach in regards to what gets thrown at Irene and Kai. Here’s a little taste:
So far-so far just today-I have coped with discovering the skin of a senior Librarian, with running into a trap of chaos energies, with an attack by alligators, with an encounter with Alberich himself, and with an attempt to drown us in the Thames.
This book could’ve easily become childishly harebrained, but the “anything goes” approach actually works rather well and is highly entertaining. There are lots of nods to book nerd culture, including seeing Irene get swept up in her “great detective” literary fantasy as they partner with a London investigator. You know we’ve all been there, waiting for our Hogwarts letters or wishing we could swing a sword without dismembering ourselves.
Despite its largely lighthearted feel, there are things about The Invisible Library that keep it grounded, namely the Librarians’ lack of altruism. Unlike the protagonists of most fantasy books, the Librarians aren’t interested in helping the worlds they sneak into, even when chaos forces threaten to destabilize all of reality. They are there for the books, and only the books. Having grown up in the Library, the selfishness of this attitude doesn’t naturally click for Irene, and it provides unexpected tension when it’s pointed out to her. This budding internal struggle promises to carry through in the sequel, The Masked City, which is already released.
There is a little bit of everything The Invisible Library, and that’s what makes it fun: dragons, cat burglars, family pressures, ancient enemies, professional rivals, and – above all – a fierce and passionate love for books. I’m pretty sure we all have that last part in common, so go check it out!
*According to the scholarly source known as Wikipedia, this is called the “many-worlds interpretation” of quantum mechanics, blah blah blah I didn’t read the article any further than that. But if multiple universe plotlines intrigue you, I suggest you also pick up Dark Matter by Blake Crouch, which is currently blowing my mind.