This is my review of the second half of The Invisible Library, by Genevieve Cogman. A link to the first half is here, and here is a link to where you can buy a copy if what I say gets you tempted. That link is to Amazon, and it is an affiliate link so if you spend any money I will get a pinch of it. This review will have lots of spoilers in it, but I will try and keep them on the vaguer side so I’m not ruining it for everyone.
But onto the main business of this review. What did I think of the book? I really enjoyed it, it was great fun. I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting, but what I got was a very fun detective story with steampunk elements and a lot of miscellaneous fantasy sprinkled on top. There are vampires, werewolves, dragons, fae, nature spirits, and strange and eldritch creatures that come from elsewhere.
Cogman manages to make all of this work, despite the fact that it could have felt very cluttered. I think the way she saves it is by making it clear that the world of the Library is actually lots of little worlds all bound together with the Library as the glue. This works to clue you in early that you can expect things to get a little complicated, so when the different fantasy elements are added you don’t feel overwhelmed. It also helps that she adds things in slowly, rather than dumping it all in on top of you at the beginning of the novel things are introduced to you in bits and pieces. You know that there are vampires and werewolves in the world because Irene, the Librarian, and the main character, is informed of this in a brief rundown of the history of the world they are in.
This is a very quick and no-nonsense way of getting a reader prepared for what is going to happen. And it does work, but I have to admit I prefer the more natural way that the reader finds out about dragons and nature spirits. They are briefly mentioned, then mentioned a bit more, then more info is given, and then they turn up.
This works well, partly because Cogman is a very determined thread dropper. She manages to foreshadow everything you could want to be forewarned about with plenty of time, but you never feel as if this is because of a patronising doubt in your ability to pick up on them. It just feels like good detective writing. Like with how Agatha Christie was said to write, leaving plenty of evidence for anyone to be the villain and then figuring it out towards the end, you are given plenty of chances to figure out what is going on. But you are also given plenty of chances to seize onto the tail of a red herring or two.
And to be fair, that’s at least half the fun of reading a detective novel, isn’t it? Getting things wrong? The other half is, of course, getting things right, but I got a few things right too.
The characters in this book are very interesting. Cogman deliberately signposts them as specific tropes from various genres. And she twists and analyses those tropes in front of you so that you see the different ways she could have written them. It makes you wonder even more about her decisions and makes you interrogate your own assumptions and how you see the characters.
The character who is most aware of this, and they all seem to be to varying degrees, is Irene. Obviously, this is biased in her favour since she is the point of view character and so we are essentially looking over her shoulder at what she thinks. But it is very noticeable how she puts people in boxes as she is going along, very neatly labelling them for the reader’s benefit with what she thinks of them and what she expects them to do. When they go against her expectations she analyses the box, relabels it and neatly files them away again. Or at least she tries to.
This is something I have found myself doing in the book, even without Irene’s prompting. So it was fun to have someone to compare my notes with. Especially since she had a lot more knowledge about the world she was running around in than I had. Even if she was in a new world, she had been to lots before where things weren’t the same, but things were similar.
For example, she had met both fae and dragons before in other worlds. I have not. And so she was able to describe them and their actions in ways that made sense. I thought posing them as opposites, the fae as beings of chaos, the dragons as beings of order, was a cool idea. Especially since we got to see a little of what that meant in a practical sense. The idea of the fae seeing themselves as the main character in a story and looking out at the rest of the world as fellow characters was very illustrative and helped me to understand how to see their actions.
Another thing that I thought was good was the frequent use of the theme of family. I tend not to think of themes that much while I am reading books these days, but it is an unavoidable symptom of studying English at Uni, eventually you can’t get away from it. But in this book, it was really quite inescapable. I personally like having clear themes in a story, and this helped me to connect with the story even more. I started looking for evidence of it, more examples to add to my list. Which is maybe not a normal thing to do, but it’s what I ended up doing. And there were a lot of examples to pick up on, every character who shows up seems to have something. Whether love, angst, or both family is something that connects everyone in this book.
Along with books, of course, everyone is obsessed with books which just shows hey have excellent taste.
So, what’s my final verdict?
I had a great time reading this book and I would recommend it to those who enjoy literary references in their literature and who enjoy fight scenes in zeppelins. If you’ve got those two things ticked off then you should be good to go this one. There isn’t too much gore, a couple of instances where it gets quite nasty but it is mostly left to your imagination and nothing is described specifically. Basically, you just get told what the thing is and then your imagination is allowed to fill in the gaps.
I will probably be picking up the rest of the books in this series at some point, there are seven in total, including this one. And I guess that’s probably a pretty good way of saying what I think of it, huh?
- Here is the link to where you can buy The Invisible Library at Amazon.
- Here is the link to buy it at bookshop.org who share the money with indie book shops.
- Here is the link to the review of the previous half.
- And here is a link to the main Virtual Book Club Page.
I’m not too far off finishing my list of books, so if you have any that you would like me to read, leave a comment so that I can know about it and I will do my best to include them. However, before then I have Gideon the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir to read. I have been looking forward to this one, it has one of the best covers I have ever seen and the tag line on the front says, “Lesbian necromancers explore a haunted gothic palace in space!” You can find links to buy it on the main Virtual Book Club page.
See you soon and stay safe,