Book Review: The Forbidden Library by Django Wexler
Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Series: Book 1 of The Forbidden Library
Publisher: Kathy Dawson Books (April 15, 2014)
Mogsy’s Rating: 5 of 5 stars
I’m a big fan of Django Wexler’s work. His adult epic fantasy The Thousand Names blew me away last year, putting him on my favorite author radar so I’ve been keeping an eye out for more from him ever since. This past year I’ve also read the first book of his new novella series John Golden, gone back to read one of his older published novels from a small press, and of course this one, The Forbidden Library, his upcoming middle-grade title.
Anyway, I think it’s official: Wexler excels at pretty much any genre he tries his hand at. I was initially curious and maybe a little skeptical as to how he would handle a children’s novel, but this book was truly excellent. The author shows his talent and versatility in The Forbidden Library, creating original worlds filled with all kinds of interesting creatures, bringing them to life with such rich and detailed descriptions. I have no doubt adult readers will be enchanted by the wonderful creativity and imagination found in here as well.
The story itself is fantastic, and as an avid bibliophile it’s hard for me to resist anything to do with libraries or reading about the wonderful books that take us to faraway places. As you’ll see, the metaphor of books as portals to new worlds is actually quite literal in this case. The plot follows main protagonist Alice, a young girl who discovers she has a very special power. Called “Readers”, people like Alice possess the ability to enter the worlds of certain books, which might seem great at first, until you realize these books serve as prisons to nasty creatures and the only way out again is if the Reader can defeat them.
However, if a Reader is successful in defeating and binding a creature, he or she will escape and also have access to its abilities. I thought this was a very sophisticated and inventive idea to explain how people like Alice derive their magical powers. Their spells are achieved by calling upon the creatures they control to channel it for them, and presumably a Reader can grow more powerful by defeating more creatures in “prison books” and taking control of their abilities.
The plot also had enough mystery to keep me constantly guessing; I could never be sure what everybody’s motives were. I felt for Alice and her predicament of being suddenly thrust into a strange environment where she couldn’t trust anyone, though she was far from helpless and I’m sure she had no need for anyone’s sympathy. Courageous and headstrong, Alice is a good role model for young readers, being a take-charge kind of girl who doesn’t take obstacles or setbacks lying down.
In some ways, The Forbidden Library was more complex than I would have expected from a middle-grade novel. While it had its fair share of levity (Ashes the talking cat will be a joy to many, for example — and not just to cat-lovers!), it also had its moments of darkness. Sometimes it’s both light and dark at once, as evidenced by the “Swarmers”, Alice’s horde of bizarre bird-like creatures that have the physical appearance and consistency of a rubber ball with legs. I confess, reading this made me want an army of Swarmers of my own — in spite of the fact they’re essentially a black mass of razor-sharp pecking beaks and I’d probably lose an eye. Like I said, the magical creatures found in this book and the sheer imagination behind them are a pure delight.
It’s moments like that which make me feel this is a book both kids and adults can enjoy. It certainly has that wide appeal! I’ve been trying to read a lot more children’s books/middle-grade books lately, taking note of my favorite titles to share with my daughter one day (who’s still a bit too young now, but it’s never too early to start her library!) Without a doubt, The Forbidden Library will be one of them.