I picked this up from the library because … because I don’t know why. Look, I was doing that thing where I walked through the aisles with my head tilted and the spine of this book caught my eye. It had the word “library” in the title, I like books, and the description on the back of it sounded interesting – kind of a mix of Doctor Who and The Eyre Affair with some mystery thrown in. Whatever, I’m not always deep about shit.
So in the universe of The Invisible Library, there is a Library. And it is invisible. I mean, kind of. The people who work at the Library – y’know, Librarians – they can see the Library. It’s invisible to you and I, because we aren’t Librarians.
The Library is always written with a capital L. It exists outside of time or space, and acts as a hub between worlds – or as the Librarians call them, “alternates.” Librarians travel throughout the alternates to bring copies of books native to those alternates to be stored in the Library.
“Then what is the purpose of the Library?” Vale asked.
“To save books,” Irene said firmly. The words were so automatic that she didn’t even need to think about them. She’d spent all her life with the idea. But the words had never sounded hollow to her before. She made herself focus on the familiar justification. “To save created works. In time, if their original alternate loses them, we can give them back copies, so that they aren’t lost. And in the meantime, the Library exists and endures.” [p. 184]
Irene is our protagonist. She is a Junior-level Librarian; a field agent, if you will, who travels to alternates to retrieve books. In between her assignments, she is able to devote her time to research … things. Write dissertations? I don’t know, I didn’t write that part down in my notes. But Irene longs for the day when she doesn’t have to travel and can just stay in her office and study.
Today – er, the start of the book – is not that day.
Almost immediately upon her return from an alternate, she is assigned another job – and this time, she has a new recruit to take with her. Mentoring is an essential responsibility for Librarians, and Irene has been dragging her feet on taking a recruit on. Irene’s intern (I don’t care or recall if that’s the actual term used, but that’s the one I’m going with) is Kai.
Kai is very pretty.
He had the sort of beauty that instantly shifted him from a possible romance object to an absolute impossibility. Nobody got to spend time with people who looked like that outside the front pages of newspapers and glossy magazines. His skin was so pale that she could see blue veins at his wrists and throat. And his hair was a shade of black that looked almost steely blue in the dim lights, braided down the back of his neck. His eyebrows were the same shade, like lines of ink on his face, and his cheekbones could have been used to cut diamonds, let alone cheese. [p. 23]
At first, Kai seems sullen and surly. But as he works with Irene, we see that he uses his intensity to mask a desire to learn. He’s also very respectful to Irene, which I thought was a nice character trait. I mean, you read a few young adult-ish novels where the Sullen Teen Boy is just a bit of a bitca to everyone, and when one of them isn’t, it’s noticeable.
Anyway. Their assignment takes them to a steampunk-esque alternate for Victorian London, where they meet up with Peregrine Vale, an analogue for Sherlock Holmes. A rare edition of Grimm’s Fairy Tales has gone missing, and they need to get it back.
The owner of the Grimm, Lord Wyndham, has died. He was also a vampire. I don’t recall if it’s important that Wyndham was a vampire; I only wrote down that he was a vampire. So I’m mentioning it. His rival (?), Lord Silver, is a suspect – oh, maybe it’s because vampires and the Fae are mortal enemies? Oh, shit, right – so, Lord Silver is a Fae. He’s also the ambassador to Lichtenstein.
Irene runs into Lord Silver while investigating the crime scene. “But Alaina,” you cry, “Irene’s a Librarian! Why is she working the crime scene?”
Irene is almost seduced by Lord Silver – in that he Fae’s her into being attracted to him – but she keeps her cool. She uses his seduction to score an invitation to the Ambassador’s Ball where she’ll be able to do more investigating. (I cannot remember the reason why they needed to get to the Ball, but it doesn’t really matter.) While there, the Iron Brotherhood – a cult or something who worship mechanical stuff and the sworn enemy of the Fae and also Lichtenstein – attack the Ball with robot crocodiles.
That was the other reason I picked up the book – I’m pretty sure the back of the book mentioned mechanical crocodiles or something.
ANYWAY. So Irene, Kai, and their new friend Peregrine Vale escape the crocodile ball in a carriage. BUT! Their carriage gets taken over by Alberich, a rogue Librarian who is ALSO searching for the missing Grimm volume! AND! Alberich drives the carriage right into the icy cold river and uses MAGIC (which I’ll explain in a minute) to make the carriage inescapable, ensuring Team Library will drown!
But apparently Kai is actually a dragon and is able to tell the water not to drown them so they survive.
Now she was sure what Kai really was. A river spirit might have changed himself to water to save them, and a nature spirit of some other type might have cajoled or persuaded the river to help them, but only one sort of being would give orders to a river.
Kai was a dragon. What the hell was she supposed to do about that? [p. 176-177]
Um, could you explain what that meant?
Here’s my biggest complaint about this book: nothing is ever really explained. We begin the book as Irene is returning from her assignment. Before we can take a breath to learn about this strange new world, we’re moved right into the next assignment with Kai. But Kai already has a basis of knowledge about this world, so no explanations are necessary from Irene. BUT WE THE READERS ARE NOT KAI! Us readers are asked to take A LOT on faith.
Like, the magic stuff. Librarians can speak the Language – commands uttered with a Capital Letter which controls the alternate world. So for instance, if a Librarian is in an alternate and there’s a locked door but they don’t have the key, a Librarian can use the Language to order That Specific Door to Open. There aren’t any spells or magic words – it’s just capital letters.
But apparently Kai didn’t use the Language to save them in the river – he just dropped his human form (?) to become a dragon (??) to tell the river (?!?) to not drown them, and then turned back into human (?*!?), BUT WE NEVER SEE THE DRAGON THING AGAIN OR LEARN WHY IT’S APPARENTLY A BIG DEAL.
Another example is the whole Bradamant thing. Bradamant is another Librarian, and she was Irene’s mentor when Irene was an intern or trainee or whatever. Bradamant is the type of mentor to praise you when no one else is looking, and then when you do a great job out in the field, Bradamant will take credit for everything you do and then highlight every mistake you made. So in short, she’s a middle manager.
But there’s so much tension between Bradamant and Irene! And apparently there was an Incident, but the only description you get of the Incident (and that’s my capitalization, not the book’s) comes from Bradamant, who we’ve already determined to be unreliable.
“We were trying to locate a book which had been stolen by a notorious thief. Everyone knew who she was. The best police officers in the city were watching her every move and still they couldn’t catch her. And when Irene and I were trying to investigate, well …” [Bradamant] smiled again, tolerantly. “The lady in question was very charming. And it isn’t as if I was in any significant danger while Irene was so, shall we say, “preoccupied” with her. And I managed to find the book, so all’s well that ends well.”
Irene looked down at her knees and bit her tongue. It hadn’t been like that at all, but that was all the story that anyone would know now. [p. 223-224]
BUT WHAT WAS IT LIKE, IRENE?! It sounds like Irene merely tried to talk to the lady!thief and convince her to not steal anymore, but that is not clear! Why can’t you say the thing?
If you want to read a much more in-depth review, please check out the comments on the book over on Goodreads, Tinka’s especially.
When I was done with the book, it almost felt like the characters were sharks – if they stopped moving through the action, they would die. They almost had an aversion to sitting down and explaining what was going on. And with such a fantastical story as this, the story really needed to be able to take those moments and get everyone on the same page.
I mean they had mechanical crocodiles in this book and they were completely wasted.
Grade for The Invisible Library: 1 star