Book Review: Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines
This was a book I had high hopes for, ever since finding out what it was about. At some point in our childhoods, I’m sure all of us bibliophiles have wished that the worlds in our favorite books were real, and wondered what it would be like to interact with with its characters and objects.
This book features a magic system that plays around with the general basis of that idea. The protagonist Isaac Vainio is a Libriomancer, a member of a secret organization who possesses the ability to reach inside books and pull out objects in their stories. One day Isaac is attacked by a group of vampires, and discovers that they have been targeting other magic users as well. Together with the dryad Lena, Isaac finds himself tasked with solving the mystery of the attacks as well as the kidnapping of Johannes Gutenberg, inventor of the movable-type printing press…and Libriomancer founder and leader.
First of all…ugh, why did it have to be vampires?
Seriously though, this was a good book. Even with the vampires. My issues with it, however, have more to do with my hangups with the Libriomancy magic system. Not to sound disparaging, because I don’t deny it’s a great idea and sounds awesome on paper (it’s what first attracted me to the book, remember) but the application of it here was just…messy.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand the challenges here. After all, the Libriomancers’ ability to reach into books and pull out objects has got to be like the most over-powered superpower ever. This story must have been a plotting nightmare with all the deux ex machina moments just waiting to happen. It just makes sense that logically with so many books in publication, someone somewhere sometime must have written something that would be able to get our hero and his friends out of any and all troublesome situations the bad guys throw at them.
Apparently, the solution to that is to put in rules. Rules like Libriomancers can only pull out smaller objects, no bigger than the size of the open book which is the magical “window” to the world of the book. Or that certain books with dangerous or disgustingly powerful objects are magically “locked” which prevent Libriomancers to bring them into existence. Hermione’s Time-Turner device in the Harry Potter series would be a perfect example.
As a result, every chapter you’ll get an info dump, Isaac guiding and explaining the nuts and bolts behind the Libriomancy magic system — what you can do and what you can’t do. It’s unfortunately very distracting, and I started to wonder after a while if I wouldn’t have preferred to put all that out of my mind and simply enjoyed the story, plot holes and all. I love cool magic systems, but Libriomancy just doesn’t seem to be one that lends itself to grow naturally in a reader’s mind. Like I said, great idea, but it’s not so fun when you’re always finding inconsistencies and then waiting for the narrator to explain them.
Other than that, this book wasn’t bad. I liked the main character, even though for a smart guy Isaac has a terrible habit of not thinking things through when he does them. He has a very single-minded way of looking at a problem and isn’t above threatening his hostages with remotely-activated exploding brain implants in order to get his way. Oh, and he’s constantly distracted by Lena and ogling her like a horny adolescent.
Okay, so I didn’t like those aspects of him so much. But what I did like was his sense of wonder and motivation to learn new things. When Isaac isn’t constantly distracted by Lena, he’s constantly distracted by his curiosity and desire to find out why or how things work, which makes him instantly relatable. His love for books comes through, and also reinforces his character and makes him seem more real. When he goes into a bookstore he claims the books “speak” to him, but the way he describes it makes me doubt Libriomancy has much to do with it; every book lover can tell you how walking between the shelves of a store or library and seeing all those books can make them feel giddy and happy. There’s no real magic in it, but I think it’s something magical nonetheless, and the author captured those emotions very well in his characterization of Isaac.
Anyway, if you enjoy books with plots that are fast-paced and constantly driven forward by a whole bunch of things happening at once, then Libriomancer definitely fits the bill. I’ll admit a lot of it was too convoluted and outrageous for me (and this coming from a diehard fan of The Dresden Files series) but if action-packed and bombastic urban fantasy stories are your thing, this book might be worth checking out.