Archive Book Review: Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Libriomancers have the ability to “pull” things such as objects and even people/animals (albeit, it’s a bit dangerous to pull anything other than objects from the books) from books. Isaac is a libriomancer who has been delegated to a librarian job after something went awry during an investigation two years prior to this story. Isaac is part of a secret society whose job is, among other things, to keep magic in check. The society is headed by Johannes Gutenberg who is hundreds of years old, but now he’s missing. And vampires have shown up at Isaac’s door. So, of course, Isaac finds himself on the case.
As an avid reader, why wouldn’t I want to read about about magic centered around the power of reading? Isaac could be any one of us bibliophiles if you look over the paranormal part. He gets lost in the magic of the worlds that books create. Even before he became a libriomancer, they were his protection and his home. Being able to actually manipulate the power was just a perk of a love he already had. It was adorable how he’d get distracted just thinking about all the books inside a library and how he’d get upset if a book had been abused.
You’d think with such an arsenal at the libriomancers’ disposal that things would get out of hand quick, but Hines did a great job of adding many limitations to the magic.One of the more interesting limitations is the fact that the magic is “created” by readers in a sense, and a libriomancer just taps into that magic and bends it to their will. Also, certain books are magically “locked” to keep libriomancers, especially people who have no idea that they’re libriomancers, from pulling something from a book that could possibly cause chaos. I chuckled a little bit at the paragraph where Isaac mentions that J.K. Rowling was asked not to include a certain item in her future books.
Isaac is a bit Dresden-ish to me. His humor and attitude just made me picture Harry in his place more than a few times. But I’m starting to think that’s the usual archetype for the male paranormal hero just as many paranormal female heroes share many of the same traits. However, Isaac is a huge geek with a love for Doctor Who, Firefly, and science fiction novels–the latter two inspiring him to wear a brown duster. His companion is a loyal fire spider named Smudge who he pulled from a book and became too attached to to return. Smudge is prone to flaring up when danger is near and causes more than a few fire accidents.
I do have to give Isaac a few more props because he wants to use his magic. So many male and female protags in a paranormal book don’t want to use their magic or spend way too much time debating over what using the full extent of their magic could mean. Isaac is forbidden to use his magic, but he wants to use it. Yes, he talks about the possibility of losing himself in his magic, which is a very valid concern for a libriomancer, but he’s more curious about how doing certain things with his magic could shape their ideas on how their magic works. I loved that. He’d get excited about the prospect, embrace the ideas of how “book magic” could be fully shaped, and he’d even, at times, understand that he probably does not have enough control of his power to test that.
Then, there’s Lena. The moment Lena Greenwood entered the book, I knew that I was going to love her. She kicks ass like most female protagonists in a paranormal series, but her looks set her apart from them. Isaac described her as heavy set and beautiful. Notice I said “and” right there instead of “but.” Her weight isn’t treated as something “wrong.” Isaac doesn’t lament that she would be prettier if she was slimmer. In fact, when he described her, her being heavy set was just a matter-of-fact opinion coupled with the rest of his description about her. It doesn’t really come up again for him again except one other time, but another character did ask Isaac, “Who’s the fat chick?” I really appreciate Hines adding a beautiful female protagonist and love interest who isn’t a size 2 and whose weight isn’t analyzed from every angle as “something wrong with an otherwise beautiful woman.”
Lena is the lover of a psychologist who treats people like Isaac. (Libriomancers are susceptible to taking characters into their heads and forming multiple personalities, and her girlfriend, the doctor, has treated Isaac in the past.) She loves the doctor, but she begins to love Isaac, too. I wasn’t surprised when they became a threesome more in the way of a triangle with Lena being the pinnacle. I mean, how many times have we gotten a threesome in a paranormal romance book featuring a woman when she can’t choose between two men? However, I liked some of the reasoning behind it, aside from how they feel about one another, being that they both make Lena feel complete.
She’s able to have multiple sides to her personality because of both of them. She’s a magical being born from a book. Her nature is to be agreeable for her lover. She adapts to be a perfect mate for them. She can’t change that about herself. She can only be choosy about who she allows to shape her, which the ultimate form of trust for her. With two lovers, she’s finding for the first time that she can disagreeable if she likes because she can offer a differing opinion where once she could only be agreeable to a lover–whatever their whims. She’s finding a new dimension that allows her to be more than just what Isaac or the doctor wants her to be. She’s beginning to feel like she has true depth.
Anyhow, moving on.
One thing that annoyed me? All the name dropping. This is an issue that I’ve taken with many books that do so much name dropping. It always ends up feeling overdone to me.
Media that depends on pop culture references, whether it’s a book or some type of visual media (movies, television shows, etc.), leaves me feeling some kind of way–mainly because I always end up thinking: “Who is going to care about/know about these references in a few years?” True, Hines used some classics that are and will continue to be enduring, but many of the vampires/monsters take their names from authors popular at this moment like Stephanie Meyers and Charlaine Harris, who–no offense–I don’t see their current works being something that people will care much about twenty years from now. When writers root themselves so deeply in the trends that are hot right now in a story, it tends to make a story feel dated when coming back around to it, especially if that story isn’t meant to be about an era past.
I would’ve liked to have seen more originality as far as the books were concerned in the story, but I understand it being easier to reference books already in existence since most readers would already be vaguely familiar with most of them. And it wouldn’t require Hines to go into detail describing the book. But Meyerii vampires, also known as Sparklers, really? I do have to give Hines some props for books being an “unnatural” way of becoming a monster.
Even though libriomancers were the main magic practitioners talked about, there were hints of other interesting magic(like Isaac’s boss using music called “bardic magic”), and I hope we get to see a little more of those. I’m hoping to see more of Johannes Gutenberg and Ponce de Leon in future books because the bits of their relationship shown in the book was an interesting tease for readers. The story could’ve been a little stronger, but I did enjoy it and the characters.