The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman. Roc, 2015.
As the story opens, our heroine, Irene, is disguised as a maid at a boys’ boarding school, scrubbing late at night in order for a chance to achieve her mission: taking an important book from this world back to the Library. Once there, though, she’s not even given time to change her soaking clothes before she’s given a new mission. It’s a risky one, in a world where the Fae are dangerously powerful. Her briefing is atypically incomplete. And she’s given a new trainee to supervise as well, the impossibly beautiful and secretive Kai.
The Library is in the title of the book, and this is a library to inspire every book-lover in the world, with copies of magical texts from all over the multiverse, as well as variant copies of familiar books from different versions of the same worlds. These Librarians, similar to Jenn Swann Downey’s Ninja Lybrarians, are trained in combat and espionage as well as magic and (one presumes) collection development. (There’s no word on training in the Reference Interview, but there’s also no sign of patrons in the Library.) These Librarians, though, are protected by a large magical tattoo that prevents strange and hostile magic from taking over.
The new world is steampunky. The mission is still difficult. Irene finds herself sharing more than she’d like with handsome detective Vale, despite some overtures from Kai. Her rival and former trainer Bradamant turns up, and there are warnings about the rogue former librarian named Alberich…
15 or 20 years ago, I would have loved this without reservation. Now, a few years of specifically focusing on diversity have spoiled me. Here we are traveling across worlds with librarians from all over, and all our characters, whether human, fae, or what have you, are only described as having pale European skin. It makes the whole thing feel just a bit like an old black-and-white movie when you’re used to color. I get that many people are hesitant to write about “the other”… but I feel like an author who’s able to write a character of a different species should be able to put in some humans with different ethnic backgrounds. It did, alas, put me a little off an otherwise excellent book. That being said, I do have both of the sequels currently checked out, though as I’ve been checking books out with abandon and without regard to my actual ability to read them before they come due, it’s still up in the air whether I’ll get to them in time. My mother read them all in about a day each.