My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I kind of swithered between 3 and 4 stars but decided that I’d give it the benefit of the doubt as it’s Christmas and I suspect my enjoyment of it was reduced by the chaos around me at the moment.
This book is a mixture of different genres, fantasy, science fiction and steampunk with a bit of good old fashioned detective story thrown in for good measure so there is a lot going on. However the author balances all of these elements very well. It’s not perfect but it’s definitely got potential to be the start of a great series.
The story follows Irene, junior librarian at “The Library”. Her role is to travel to alternate worlds and seek out particular books to be added to the libraries collection.
Her latest mission, thrust upon her unexpectedly, is to seek out a copy of Grimm’s fairytales from an alternate which is very much like Victorian London. The main difference being that this world is infected with chaos (kind of like magic I suppose) which means the presence of Fae, Werewolves, Vampires and strange mechanical inventions.
It’s a world considered dangerous by the ordered and controlled librarians but Irene is assigned an assistant Kai to help her with her mission.
When they reach the world things are more complicated than they were expecting, the owner of the book has been murdered and the book stolen by an infamous thief. The race is on to track down the volume before anyone else can but there are other factions and societies who want the book and will go to any means to obtain it.
This book should have been right up my street. It’s about a librarian and books (what more do I need?) but for some reason it didn’t quite draw me in the way that I hoped it would.
The writing and characters are excellent. It did remind me a little of Jasper Fforde or Jodi Taylor in terms of style. It has that very British, formal, dry humour type feel to it which I do love.
The characters were very well described and well rounded. They all had their positives as well negative qualities. No one was perfect in anyway and there were chunks of good even in the villains.
I think where it lost me a little was the plot. It seemed at times like an awful lot of trouble to go to just for a book. I love my books and I understand that this is their vocation but I’m not sure I would be willing to do and put up with as much as they do. I found it difficult to be captivated by the hunt for a book.
The other thing which I thought made it a bit difficult to connect to was narrator Irene. As librarian she must be disciplined, in control and detached at all times. While I admire her dedication to her role it’s not easy to connect with someone so seemingly prim, proper and emotionless. My favourite moments of the story were probably those where she loses control or gets distracted and let’s her thoughts wander inappropriately, particularly in respect of her assistant.
Other characters were a bit more likeable and I have to admit to a soft spot for her apprentice Kai. I wasn’t too sure about him initially but loved him by the end. There is a lot of mystery around him which is fascinating and I can’t wait to see what happens with him next.
There was quite a lot of world building in this, the first in the series, which probably slowed things down a little but I think now that’s out of the way subsequent books will be better. I have the feeling that there is a lot more going on behind the scenes of the Library. There have been a few suggestions of a darker motive to it and some questions over the true motivations of the senior librarians so I will be interested to find out where the story goes next.
Thankfully I have the Masked City ready and waiting to start.