The Invisible Library – Genevieve Cogman
Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, which harvests fiction from different realities. And along with her enigmatic assistant Kai, she’s posted to an alternative London. Their mission – to retrieve a dangerous book. But when they arrive, it’s already been stolen. London’s underground factions seem prepared to fight to the very death to find her book.
Adding to the jeopardy, this world is chaos-infested – the laws of nature bent to allow supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic. Irene’s new assistant is also hiding secrets of his own.
Soon, she’s up to her eyebrows in a heady mix of danger, clues and secret societies. Yet failure is not an option – the nature of reality itself is at stake.
I picked up this book in London this past December for two reasons: that cover and that synopsis. Let’s talk about those two elements a bit.
It’s such a lovely colour, and I absolutely love the gold details. It gives it an old-fashioned feel which works really well with the plot. I also like that it looks textured, like it’s covered in material or something.
First of all, I’d like to work in (for?) the Library. The Librarians go to alternate worlds, collecting books that are somehow significant – they keep the work in the Library but they can take it back to its original world if it’s needed. These Librarians are bound to the Library using some sort of tattooed brand, and, while they’re are exactly immortal, they age at a different rate. As Irene puts it:
…all of us who are sealed to the Library are people who have chosen this way of life because we loved books…We want books. We love books. We live with books…
Doesn’t that sound magical? My only problem was that I had a hard time understanding how the Library worked. Up until Irene explains it Vale (more than halfway through), I was struggling to figure out how it all worked. I actually just thought I had skipped a crucial word/phrase, but I think it was intentionally vague until she has to start updating outsiders.
Irene was a lovely protagonist. She’s a more bookish version of Gail Carriger’s Alexia Tarabotti – no-nonsense and clever, but where Alexia would scour the room for food, Irene is more interested in literature. It made for some great literary allusions (probably quite a few that I didn’t pick up). For some reason, the writing and general vibe reminded me of the underrated but fabulous Sorcery & Cecelia, though maybe a bit more “grown up”.
I also liked her assistant Kai; I figured out his secret fairly early on, but it was still interesting. If he is her love interest (which I’m guessing he is, though it’s not explicitly stated), he didn’t have a huge role/she didn’t spend pages mooning over him, apart from mentioning a few times that he is attractive. This was a nice change because it let Irene’s intelligence stay in the spotlight with less of a focus on a possible romance.
The world-building is one of the best parts of the book; it’s the first in a trilogy, and I’m excited to see how Genevieve Cogman expands on the alternate worlds over the course of the next two books.