Book Review: Bookburners by Max Gladstone, Margaret Dunlap, Mur Lafferty, Brian Francis Slattery

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

bookburnersBookburners by Max GladstoneMargaret Dunlap, Mur Lafferty, Brian Francis Slattery

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of Bookburners

Publisher: Saga Press (January 10, 2017)

Length: 800 pages

Author Information: Max GladstoneMargaret Dunlap | Mur Lafferty | Brian Francis Slattery

Bookburners initially landed on my radar around a year and a half ago when it was first announced as the launching project by Serial Box, a publisher with an ambitious new idea to deliver their stories in a weekly serialized medium. The plan was that “Season One” will be a 16-episode run, written by a team of authors made up of Max Gladstone, Margaret Dunlap, Mur Lafferty, and Brian Francis Slattery. Though at the time I was only familiar with Gladstone’s work, it was enough that my interest was immediately piqued.

But as much as the concept of serialized novels intrigued me, it didn’t long at all for me to realize I preferred my books the same way I prefer my TV shows—as in, binge-watching a full season all at once. Sure enough, I tried to follow Bookburners when it first came out and promptly fell behind, which is why I was so glad when I found out that a collected edition was coming from Saga Press. I honestly loved what I saw of the first couple episodes, and thanks to this more convenient format, I finally got my chance to catch up with the full season.

Now, I’ve always admitted a huge weakness for “books about books” but what I liked about Bookburners is its unique take on the subject. You have a kickass lady cop, her wayward brother, and a group of demon hunters from the Vatican, and before you know it the stage is set for an urban fantasy adventure that will make you see “dangerous reading” in a whole new light. For NYPD Detective Sal Brooks, it was just another day on the grind when she gets a strange phone call from her brother Perry asking to hide out at her place. Over the years, Sal has become used to Perry’s idiosyncrasies, but this time, she knows something is seriously wrong. Turns out, her brother has gotten himself into some deep trouble, and it all comes down to a demon-possessed book.

Soon, Sal finds herself entangled with a Catholic priest and his secret team of agents whose mission is to travel all over the world tracking down and securing dangerous books infused with nasty magic. The book in Perry’s possession is revealed to be one such artifact, but the intervention comes too late and he succumbs to its evil. Now in order to save her brother’s life, Sal has little choice but to join up with Father Arturo Menchú and the Bookburners (even though they don’t actually burn the books), relocating to Rome to help fight for the cause. She quickly discovers a whole secret world that the Vatican’s Societas Librorum Occultorum has been keeping from the public, but a recent string of deadly magical threats is about to bring everything crashing down.

At first, I thought the structure of Bookburners was going to be like any other traditional novel which just happens to be released in 16 parts. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that each episode actually contains its own mini-story roughly complete with intro/exposition, rising action, climax and resolution, etc. Together, the 16 sections then make up a more complete and overarching season plot, so that in a sense, the format really does mirror that of a TV show. With Bookburners, I also noticed that the episodes grew progressively deeper and more complex, so for instance, earlier episodes that played more to the “Monster of the Week” trope would gradually give way to ones that contributed more to the overall “bigger picture” storyline.

This definitely affected my experience with the characters. I started the book not really caring all that much for anyone but Sal, but as each episode went on, her relationships with the other team members were explored. Eventually I became a fan of the whole cast, especially Father Menchú, whose portrayal was a breath of fresh air in contrast to the clichéd representations of religious figures I’ve seen in many other books; and also Grace, whose “origin story” wasn’t revealed until an episode halfway through the book, but wow, it was well worth the wait! Grace might have started the season as one of the most mysterious and least developed characters, but by the end of it I was in love and I wouldn’t be surprised if she ends up being a favorite for many others too.

But even though hands down Grace had the coolest and most unique backstory, it’s really just the tip of the iceberg. You’ll find so many more incredible and creative ideas in here, because every episode offers something different and new. A few of my favorite ones include “A Sorcerer’s Apprentice” (the one where Sal and Asanti go to Scotland and find that an entire town has become crazily obsessed with a restaurant), “Under My Skin” (the one where the Bookburners head to Vegas to investigate the competitors on a tattoo reality TV show, after the people getting inked start dying one by one under mysterious circumstances) and “Shore Leave” (the one where Grace and Sal get to spend some buddy time together on their shared day off). Probably not a coincidence that all three are written by Mur Lafferty, who has certainly gained a new fan in me after this book, but truly, all the authors involved did a fantastic job. Their styles and voices complemented each other very well, leading to seamless transition from one episode to the next, which became all the more important towards the end of the season when everything had to come together for the final showdown.

In case you couldn’t tell, I am beyond ecstatic that I got to read Bookburners in its entirety. With the serialized format, it’s always tough to know whether something will work or not, since a project often takes more than a couple episodes to take off (and I’m not exactly a font of patience either, so having to wait for anything tends to take the air out of my sails). Needless to say, I saw plenty of potential back when the first episode was released, but having this collection and being able to binge read several installments all at once was what ultimately got me well and truly hooked. Bookburners was a lot of fun and now I can hardly wait for Season Two.


Mogsy 2

43 Comments on “Book Review: Bookburners by Max Gladstone, Margaret Dunlap, Mur Lafferty, Brian Francis Slattery”

  1. Oh man, oh man, oh MAN! I was about to go to bed when I saw that you had reviewed this. So of course I had to drop everything and read it 😉

    Now I’m so excited that I don’t know if I’ll be able to sleep!! Haha. Thanks for the great review! I can’t wait to read this one! *dances*


      • Yeah, one of those things that I don’t like about ebooks, no consistent page count from publishers. Thankfully, I convert/free all my ebooks, so I also have a plugin in calibre that assigns a page count based on 1024 characters/spaces per page. It might not line up with the paper copies all the time, but it is internally consistent.


          • I am actually in the process of putting all of my reviews into a calibre library so I don’t have to every worry about a website shutting down and taking all my reviews with it.


          • Thankfully, I don’t have to start from scratch. I had a csv file from Leafmarks which had up through May 2016, so everything after that is up to date [as that is part of the process of writing] and everything before I was able to import. Just have to go through it and tweak covers, ratings, etc. Only 1700 more entries 😀


          • IF, and that is a big if, I can stay on schedule, I should be done by the end of this year. I could be done a lot sooner if I spent my weekends working on it, but when faced between data entry or reading, well, you know…


  2. I’m looking forward to this so much! Like you I read the first couple of episodes from Serial Box but continuing with such a long drawn out story didn’t appeal to me. And I’m so glad you loved the Mur Lafferty stories, because I think she’s awesome;-)


    • The book was definitely hefty! But I think they used oversized text in my ARC (and thus probably in the final). It actually didn’t feel too long, it might have been closer to around 500 pages, adjusting for the text size and line spacing.


  3. Like you, I prefer to marathon seasons all at once instead of parceling them out. I think Grace may be my favorite of the cast. I also can’t wait for Season 2. I’ve enjoyed all the Serial Box stories I’ve read and think it’d be great if they could find a larger audience.


  4. This is such a cool concept but like you, I knew I couldn’t do the serial format so I’m glad the it’s finally out. It’s a chunker but if the book’s good, I don’t really mind. Serial Box has a new one out focusing on witches as well which I am really eyeing.


  5. How cool that they’ve released the whole thing in one whole – although, 800 pages! I feel exhausted thinking about it! Sounds good though and I like the idea of the collection all being gathered together.
    Lynn 😀


    • Yeah, on Goodreads where I looked it was listed at 800 pages and my ARC was about that long too, but honestly it didn’t feel that long or exhausting at all. Like I said the text size was huge, maybe that’s what’s inflating the page count 🙂


  6. I totally love the idea of a serialized book that works like a tv series with a narrative arc, and that develops story and characters in increments. And many of the elements you describe are quite appealing, especially the secret order of monks that somehow reminds me of those from “The Fifth House of the Heart” 🙂
    Moreover, how could I remain indifferent to a demon-infested book? This sounds like 800 pages of pure delight…
    Thanks for sharing!


  7. Thanks for explaining the concept/format of this books so well – I’ve seen it mentioned a few places and was interested because of Gladstone and Mur Lafferty but I didn’t really GET it. Now that I do, what an awesomey cool concept – I love it – and how interesting that it worked for you like watching a season of TV particularly in developing feels about the characters. I’ll definitely be checking this one out!


  8. OK I like the sound of this one. I wouldn’t be following it in the original format as I don’t like serial novels but in combined volumes like this, sure why not! I saw it described somewhere as The Da Vinci Code meets Supernatural, which is intriguing!


  9. I’m with you, as much as I love the idea of a serialized story, I can’t keep up with them every week; I totally failed with Tremontaine after only a few “episodes” even though I loved the story. As a full story though, I could definitely get into Bookburners…even if it is 800 pages!


    • Yeah, I read the first episode of Tremontaine – loved it. But alas, the serial format does not mesh with my reading habits. But I’ll pick that series up too once the collected edition comes out of course 🙂


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