Book Review: The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman
A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Series: Book 1 of The Invisible Library
Publisher: Roc (June 14, 2016)
Length: 352 pages
Speaking as someone who loves to read, I just can’t help but get these warm fuzzy feelings for books about libraries. After all, what could be better for an avid bookworm, than being immersed in a story about a place filled with books, books, and more books?
Well, Genevieve Cogman’s The Invisible Library does one even better.
Oh, this book has libraries, all right—interdimensional libraries, established across multiple worlds, all interconnected and run by a secret society of librarian spies! Collectively, this network is known as the Invisible Library, and their members are tasked with the utmost important mission: to procure and archive important works of fiction from all of the different realities, for the purposes of preservation and research.
Our protagonist is Irene, a junior librarian agent. When the book opens, Irene is just returning home to the Library, having completed her latest assignment in the field and looking forward to some time off. However, no sooner had she reported in than she is given a new mission. This time, her superiors are sending her off to an alternate London where magic and steampunkish technologies dominate. Furthermore, Irene is given a new assistant, a mysterious young man named Kai. Together, they are to retrieve a rare book of fairy tales and bring it back to the Library before it can fall into the wrong hands.
Yet by the time Irene and Kai arrive at their destination, they find that the book has already been stolen. Tangled in a mystery involving vampires and fae, killer automatons and dashing detectives, it soon becomes clear they are on no ordinary mission.
As soon as I heard the premise, I just knew I had to check it out! This novel ended up being an incredibly fun book which uses the idea of parallel worlds to great effect, allowing the reader to ponder its infinite possibilities. This particular story takes us to an alternate London with magic and paranormal creatures, but then who knows what might come next? The potential here is simply staggering. And of course, the Library itself is also fascinating concept, with librarians who can work magic by using a secret Language. Their order’s primary purpose raises some important questions—questions that I was glad to see are ultimately addressed by the main character. For instance, what responsibilities, if any, does the Library have? What good is keeping a vast store of knowledge after all, if you don’t ever apply the information you learn? Is it even ethical what Irene and her peers are doing, plundering alternate realities for important books with no thought to what will happen to the worlds and their people? The argument is that a love for books should be good enough, but is it really?
That Irene is willing to consider these questions shows that she is different from a lot of her fellow librarians. Despite being born to life in the Library, she’s also not one to follow its rules blindly, making her a flexible agent who can think quickly on her feet. Still, her loyalty is beyond reproach. Even when faced with a competitor trying to steal credit for her work, Irene will never let pride or anything else get in the way of her mission, thinking instead of the greater goal. When the stakes are this high, it’s nice to have such a smart, efficient and good protagonist at the helm.
Still, in spite of the interesting ideas and thoughtful themes, the plot of The Invisible Library is relatively simple. It’s also a light read that has the distinct feel of being the first book a series, with room to grow in terms of character development and world-building. I for one would love to see more of the Library itself, and to learn more about its inner workings. Several of the secondary characters could use some fleshing out as well, including Vale, who is currently shaping up to be a romantic interest for Irene. For all that she is attracted to his Sherlock Holmes-like persona, I personally wouldn’t mind seeing Vale’s character grow a bit further past the “great detective” archetype. Similarly, the villain feels too lightly sketched at the moment, and needs to become more than just a bogeyman-type character for me to feel like he is a true threat, though by the end of the book I think we’re taking a step in the right direction.
While there’s no denying The Invisible Library is a book more about action than substance, I can hardly complain about that! The story is loads of fun, the characters are great, and the concept holds lots of promise. Any weaknesses I felt were very minor, and I have a feeling subsequent novels in this series will have everything covered. I had an amazing time with this book, which I would heartily recommend to all bibliophiles and lovers of “books about books”. Looking forward to the sequel!