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.
Pitched as Dr Who with Librarian Spies, I was sold on The Invisible Library before even reading the synopsis. I mean LIBRARIAN SPIES! Hello, how could I not want to read this book? And The Invisible Library certainly delivered. Cogman’s debut is a tremendously fun, rip-roaring adventure with protagonists that are easy to love and a setting that couldn’t have suited my tastes better, as it’s partly set in an amazing library and partly in a wonderful alternate and magical London, a setting for which I have a huge weakness.
Yet while the Library and the alternate London were huge draws, it was The Invisible Library’s characters that captured my heart. I loved Irene and Kai. They are such fun characters and they have great chemistry. Irene is quite dry-witted and sometimes acerbic, but she’s lovely, clever and she kicks ass when she needs to. While she’s appointed Kai’s mentor at the start of the book, she’s a mid-ranked agent herself and I loved how often she just decided to wing it and then pretend to Kai that this is how it is done. She is rather special in that she was born into The Library, rather than recruited, as both her parents are agents. I suspect Irene’s parentage will play a role in later novels, but for this book it was mainly a way for the reader to have a true insider’s perspective.
Kai on the other hand is far more the outsider. As Irene’s assistant, he’s very much still a trainee and hasn’t yet been inducted into the Library. This means he gets to ask the questions the reader has and have them explained. He also has a bit of a mysterious background, which is partially revealed during the course of the narrative, but this is another factor I expect will be explored further in future books. He’s also ridiculously charming and a great foil for Irene. In addition to Irene and Kai, there are several more important characters I really liked. One is another Librarian and Irene’s nemesis, Bradamant. Their history is fascinating and I really enjoyed the internal dialogue Irene has about Bradamant, trying to talk herself out of her reactions to Bradamant’s actions. I also liked how this antagonistic relationship developed into a functioning working relationship. Cogman develops the relationships between her characters very well, another example of this is the partnership that develops between Irene and Kai. The last character I wanted to highlight was Lord Vale, the Earl of Leeds and the main investigator working the case Irene and Kai land themselves into when they work their assignment. I loved this urbane and Holmesian figure and his effect on Irene, who has a thing for detectives.
The Invisible Library itself is also almost a character unto itself. Imagine it to be a Warehouse 13 for books where important or world-altering texts are stored, preserved and/or defused and kept safe and you wouldn’t be far wrong. I loved this institution. It creates a setting that is outside of time and as a consequence, it is hard to pinpoint whether Irene is from “our” time or the future or an alternate timeline, but this essentially doesn’t matter; the Library is of any time. The Library’s magic system, which is of course language-based, is fantastic. Cogman her Librarians speak a sort of proto-language, that is the source of all language and as such gives them power over their surroundings; it’s basically the premise that knowing something’s true name gives you power over it taken to its logical conclusion. This is also reflected in the fact that full Librarians choose their own names and you can infer quite a lot about agents from their chosen Librarian name. There are other forms of magic too and I loved how the forces of order and chaos are personified in the form of dragons and fae. The politics of the elder Librarians are cutthroat and I loved how slowly Cogman revealed this during the novel, letting Irene and Kai and their adventure in London take centre stage, while eventually placing that adventure in a clear context.
The manuscript they pursue into the alternate London lands them in the middle of a murder investigation. The London they visit is a steampunky, Victorian alternate where vampires, werewolves and other folkloric creatures run amok and where there are several factions moving about trying to get their hands on this unique manuscript. Cogman creates a vibrant, yet recognisable magical London and I really enjoyed the mystery Irene, Kai, and Vale solve in a semi-Holmesian manner.
I loved The Invisible Library and the world Cogman has created in her debut. This book is just an amazingly fun read. There are so many nods to geek culture, yet even if these go undetected through unfamiliarity, the story stands on its own and it’s unnecessary to catch the references to enjoy the story, even if these easter eggs are huge fun. The book is officially published on January 15 next year, but the ebook will be available in just three days on December 18. With The Invisible Library Cogman has set the bar high for 2015 debuts, for pure fun, enjoyment and zest for life if nothing else. Personally, I can’t wait for the second instalment of Irene and Kai’s adventures and I hope there will be many more to follow.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.