Title: The Invisible Library
Author: Genevieve Cogman
Genre: Adventure/Fantasy/Young Adult
“The first installment of an adventure featuring stolen books, secret agents and forbidden societies – think Doctor Who with librarian spies!
Irene must be at the top of her game or she’ll be off the case – permanently…
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.”
The premise of The Invisible Library is truly awesome. You’re telling me that someone has created an adventure book series blending sci-fi, steampunk, fantasy, magic AND it’s main protagonist is a LIBRARIAN SPY!? Take my money, friend! Take it all!
Now I’ll admit, phrases like “Doctor Who but with librarian spies” rates pretty high on my expectations scale, so you would think perhaps if I were to be disappointed by this book it might be because of the unrealistic assumptions sentences like this can conjure. However, I think it’s fair to say I was disappointed by this book because it was exactly that; disappointing.
This is a book that promises much but delivers little, but hey, let’s try to start positive. Firstly, conceptually I love the idea of alternate universes held together by a magical secret repository for works of literary importance. To then take that concept and impose an action-packed spy adventure within it involving supernatural creatures, magic and secret societies and I’d say, frankly, Cogman is on to a winner. Except she’s not. And here’s where the negatives start.
There was some decent world-building throughout this book, which is a good thing too because this world is incredibly complex. For me, there was simply too many good ideas being crammed into one space and as such everything felt inconsistent and confusing. This is not aided by the fact that you are thrown into the narrative with little explanation of how the world works. There was so much potential here to make the universe leap from the pages and yet, in spite of the non-stop action, I came away with the prevailing sense that the whole thing was rather dull and insipid. I found the tone and the dialogue inconsistent throughout to the point that it rather annoyed me. Generally speaking, the language seems to be pitched at the young adult market and it does this rather well, but there are occasional jarring and incongruous references to sex and graphic violence that point to a more mature audience so I’m left in the dark as to who Cogman is targeting.
And here’s the other thing, I didn’t care about the characters. Not one of them. The most engaging was probably Kai, a handsome trainee librarian with something to hide, but once his secret had been revealed there was little left of interest. Our intrepid heroine, Irene, is distinctly lacklustre showing almost no character development whatsoever. The reader is given little to go on in terms of backstory and description too – I couldn’t tell you Irene’s age or what she looks like – yet despite her coming across as rather boring and almost frumpy, all the male characters appear to be attracted to her on some level. Crucially, there is no character with which the reader can identify or learn about the world through. Logically, Kai, as Irene’s trainee, should fulfil this role but he already understands the structure of the universe so no explanation is gained there. The character of Vale, a weak Sherlock Holmes parody, probably comes closest to meeting this need but the result is still a novel where you spend half your time confused and the other half ploughing through chapters and chapters of expositional dialogue.
And whilst we’re on the subject of dialogue, no character seems to have a unique or consistent voice. Often it swings between being cliched and predictable to austere and verbose regardless of the character or context. The result is a host of one dimensional characters who show little development and spend most of their time fulfiling the most obvious of tropes. As such few twists succeed in being even remotely revelatory. The Invisible Library is certainly action-packed and as you enter the latter half of the book the pace considerably accelerates. Despite this, I can’t help but feel it was all rather unexciting and bland.
The framework for something awesome is there, but it’s just that; a rough outline. This is a classic case of too many cooks spoil the broth or, in Cogman’s case, too many ideas and not enough depth. I can’t help but feel that the whole thing would have been better served if someone, specifically the editor, had taken Cogman aside and calmly asked her to rein herself in.
All that being said, I wanted to love this book and I don’t quite want to give up on the possibility that it could be a great series. The second book, ‘The Masked City’, seems to have garnered more favourable reviews and I think I will make the effort to try it on for size. I hope that Cogman will have learnt from the mistakes of her first work and have produced a novel that does better justice to the spectacular vision she has invented.