My rating: 4 of 5 stars
“Some of the older Librarians had … unsavoury reputations. A lifetime among books didn’t cultivate depravity or debauchery, as much as a love of mind games and politics. And those games could turn dark.”
Indeed, they can – and do – in Cogman’s debut novel, in which her principal character (Irene) is whisked upon a whirligig of murderous adventure that is difficult to remove oneself from once started. Who knew a librarian’s lot could be so … well, treacherous? Far from the dusty shelves and removable-tile carpeting most readers might associate with such places, Irene finds herself within an institution of plotters and sub-plotters who, quite frankly, appear dangerous to know. No ‘Dour Susan’ here; no ‘Specialist-Subject Wendy’. Just don’t think too deeply about it, though; it’s not that kind of book.
The Invisible Library has all the ingredients of a steampunk novel – werewolves, vampires and the like – but although Cogman builds a believable world in a highly readable narrative, her witty style and tone tinkles with elements of Pratchettism. Take this for example:
“She decided to be grateful that firstly, she hadn’t been left behind, and secondly, that she was wearing traditional underpants rather than anything scantier. The rest of her mind was preoccupied with clutching the rope ladder with sweating hands, trying not to fall off and die.”
Whilst such witticisms make for an enjoyable read, it can, as in Pratchett’s work, run into literary slapstick, especially during action scenarios. Perhaps Cogman should have been a little more wary of this, given that the concept of an invisible library was bound to draw comparisons with that of Discworld’s Unseen University. The primary difference being that Cogman’s librarians are secret agents, not orangutans.
Another passing gripe I would have to level at the author here is that some sections contain waaayyy too much dialogue. There’s a lot of information for the reader to take in during these passages, slowing the story down to a virtual plod. The ending, too, was quite disappointing. The concept has intrigued me enough to consider the next novel in the series (The Masked City), but I would have preferred to explore the internal dynamics of the invisible library itself. After all, it was this idea that drew me in in the first place.
In summary: pure escapism – lovely!
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