Genres: adult, fantasy
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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...
Once again I find myself in the position with a book that is practically perfect in its premise, yet I ultimately fail to forge much of a connection with it. This is not a bad book, and I think it has its readers! I mean, it is a book about a great Library that has access to infinite alternate dimensions and universes. It also has werewolves, vampires, Fae, and dragons all romping around and creating magic, mystery, and mayhem in a sort of alternate steampunk “Victorian” London. Sign me way up for that.
However, I get this sense of “fuzziness” for lack of better word to describe it with fantasies and other genre works where the world building is not at all clear to me. The Library is a very advanced institution that seems to exist out of time. It has its own Language that allows Librarians to alter their surroundings according to their needs. For instance, our main character Irene can command stone gargoyles to come alive and do her bidding, or temporarily convince a person that they are seeing something that is not there. But I found the lengthy amount of time spent on attempting to explain or further layer the world just heightens the fuzziness. It’s very distracting in a reading experience. The logic of the Language and the Library’s power in general eluded me. I just couldn’t fully grasp exactly what type of world (or worlds) this book is trying to encompass. What sort of institution has the power to travel to alternate dimensions yet its (stated) sole purpose is collecting original copies of rare works of literature? What is the library truly after? What is the morality of using your advanced technology to travel to less advanced worlds and basically steal their treasures? Fortunately, Irene does at least start to think about and grapple with these questions. Perhaps they will be addressed in future volumes.
One of the strengths of the work is its breakneck pacing. There’s hardly a dull moment, especially after Irene lands in the alternate London in which most of the book takes place. But this ended up contributing to that fuzziness earlier described. The steampunk London feels fully realized enough, but I found it hard to keep track of which character was which and which group had connections with whom as all were introduced rather rapidly.
I think a big part of what has happened here with my enjoyment of the novel is that I am very much a character reader. I read to connect to the characters, to see them develop and forge relationships. And then to see those relationships strengthen or change in (hopefully) surprising and rewarding ways. So much focus is spent on explaining the Library, its rules, and the way its magic (of sorts) works. And, also, as I addressed, the intense speed of action in the story doesn’t leave much room for really getting to know who the characters are. They are certainly likable, especially Irene since we spend the time in her head, but I came away from the book feeling like I just didn’t have an excellent grasp on who the characters are. Kai, Irene’s assistant is perfectly serviceable. He’s considerate and capable, and most delightfully is also View Spoiler » a DRAGON! Although we don’t get to see much of him in his dragon-ish glory. Boo to that, I say. « Hide Spoiler. Vale, a sort of Sherlock homage/stand-in is also enjoyable. But, like, I said, I don’t know who these characters ultimately are.
I’m also not necessarily the best judge of what makes or breaks a good mystery story. The draw for me here was the library full of alternate worlds with paranormal creatures. But this is really much more of a straightforward steampunk mystery. So that is your grain of salt warning.
Is there romance? Nope. There might, and I emphasize might, be a smidge of a connection between Irene and Kai. I would be all for it! View Spoiler »Human/dragon shifter romance? YES PLEASE « Hide Spoiler. I also think that might possibly be a red herring and the real romantic connection is between Kai and Vale. M/M paranormal fantasy? Even more of a “Yes please!” But the lack of romance didn’t impact me that much due to my overall lack of connection with the characters.
The Invisible Library is a fun romp of a mystery through steampunk London. I would recommend this more for mystery readers, especially those who enjoy urban fantasy and paranormal, but not so much for character readers who require a deep attachment to and development of characters. A compelling, if somewhat frustrating, read. Still, I look forward to seeing what Book 2 shall bring!