Books : reviews

Genevieve Cogman.
The Invisible Library.
Tor. 2015

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 7 January 2016

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. And 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.

Irene (not her real name) is a Librarian: she gathers rare fiction for the mysterious Library that straddles alternate universes. She has just returned from a mission when, with no time even to change clothes, she is sent on a new one, with a new assistant, the seemingly sullen teenager Kai. What should be a simple training exercise in stealing a stolen book of fairy tales quickly turns into something much darker, as the Library’s chaotic enemy takes an interest. But Irene has resources of her own, including her native wit, her command of the Language, and a puzzlingly mature Kai.

This is a fun world, with steampunk alligators, a Sherlock Holmes substitute, chaotic Fae, zeppelins, dragons, books, and more. Having to follow the world-building and plot simultaneously leads to a roller-coaster adventure, as each new twist and turn of the plot reveals new facets of the background, mostly without too much Deus ex Machina feeling.

Of course, having a protagonist who loves books is going to appeal to the target audience, but Irene is an interestingly complex character, and a massive hint is dropped near the end about her importance to the ongoing plot. I’m looking forward to the further adventures of Irene and Kai.

Genevieve Cogman.
The Masked City.
Tor. 2015

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 1 May 2017

Irene is working undercover in an alternative Victorian London. For this librarian-spy, it’s business as usual – until her assistant Kai is abducted. Kai’s hidden dragon heritage means he has powerful enemies, and this act of aggression could trigger a war between his people and their greatest rivals. As they each represent the forces of order and chaos themselves, matters could turn unpleasant.

Irene’s mission to save Kai and avert Armageddon will take her to a dark, alternate Venice where it’s always Carnival. Here Irene will be forced to blackmail, fast talk, and fight. Or she’ll face mayhem – at the very least.

Irene is now Librarian in the world of her previous adventures, ably assisted by Dragon Prince Kai. But then Kai is kidnapped by an ambitious Fae, and taken deep into the chaotic worlds where the Dragons can’t rescue him. Irene goes alone, without the blessing of the Library, but with the dubious help of Lord Silver, to effect a rescue, knowing that if she fails, the Dragons will destroy the world from which he was kidnapped.

This time round, the plot is less about finding and stealing rare books, and more about finding and stealing away a captive Dragon. Kai’s role is passive: to wait to be rescued; Irene has to traverse the dangerous world of Fae Venice, disguised as a minor Fae, without knowing even the location of his prison. We get further world-building as we learn more about the Fae and the Dragons, and how they work. Irene’s adventures will win approval of the Dragons if she succeeds, but that of her beloved the Library is another matter…

Genevieve Cogman.
The Burning Page.
Tor. 2016

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 1 June 2019

When it’s your job to save the day – where do you start?

Librarian spy Irene has standards to maintain, especially while on probation. And absconding from a mission via a besieged building doesn’t look good. But when her escape route home goes up in flames, what’s a spy to do? However, it seems Gates back to the Library are malfunctioning across dozens of worlds. Worse still, her nemesis Alberich is responsible – and he plans to annihilate the Library itself.

Irene and assistant Kai are posted to St Petersburg to help combat this threat. Here Alberich emerges as Irene tries to save her friend Vale and foil assassination attempts. Then one incredibly dangerous opportunity to save the Library emerges. Saving herself would be a bonus…

Irene is on probation after her previous escapades, so has to be on her best behaviour. But then portals to the Library start going up in flames, and Irene seems to be a target. She needs to take desperate measures to save her beloved Library from the dreaded Alberich, and may even have to resort to the unthinkable…

This is another fine episode. Irene and Kai have real struggles, and potentially devastating consequences, but the tale is still shot through with the odd light moments, staring down the werewolf king, encountering a version of Catherine the Great, escaping from a version of Catherine the Great, flooding the exotic animal market with giant spiders, and more. I recognised in which Vast Library the final encounter occurs; I wonder if it will reappear?

Genevieve Cogman.
The Lost Plot.
Tor. 2017

It’s time for a cunning plan – but first Irene must find one

In an alternative 1920s America, Prohibition is in force, fedoras, flapper dresses and tommy guns are in fashion – and intrigue is afoot. Two dragons are vying for high office, and their last challenge is to hunt down a rare book. Librarian spies Irene and Kai are assigned to investigate, as a young Librarian is trapped at the heart of this conflict. If they can’t extricate him, the Library will face severe political repercussions. It could even trigger war.

So to avert disaster, the librarians will face no-holds-barred gangsters, blackmail and fiendish security systems. But failure could have dire consequenees for Irene’s job – and for her life.

Genevieve Cogman.
The Mortal Word.
Pan. 2018

Irene must stay sharp – her future rests on a knife edge

Peace talks can be tricky … but matters turn lethal when a key diplomat is stabbed. This murder rudely interrupts a top-secret summit between the warring dragons and Fae, so Librarian spy Irene is summoned to investigate. In a version of 1890s Paris, Irene and her detective friend Vale must track down the killer – before either the peace negotiations, or the city, go up in flames.

Accusations fly thick and fast. And Irene soon finds herself in the seedy depths of the Parisian underworld on the trail of a notorious Fae, the Blood Countess. However, their evidence is circumstantial. Could the assassin – or assassins – be someone no one would suspect?

Genevieve Cogman.
The Secret Chapter.
Pan. 2019

For a Librarian spy books are a dangerous business

As Irene tries to manage a fraught Fae–dragon truce and her overbearing parents, she’s given a hot new mission. The world where she grew up is in danger and only one book can save it.

This is held by Mr Nemo, secretive Fae villain and antiques dealer, so Irene and Kai travel to his Caribbean retreat to strike a deal. But in return for the book, they must steal a painting from twenty-first-century Vienna. They’ll join a team of dragons, Fae gamblers and thieves – so their greatest challenge may be one another. And some will kill to protect this painting, which hides an extraordinary secret from a past age.