Author: Jim C Hines
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publication date: August 2012
Hardcover: 400 pages
Isaac Vainio is a Libriomancer, a member of the secret organization founded five centuries ago by Johannes Gutenberg. Libriomancers are gifted with the ability to magically reach into books and draw forth objects. When Isaac is attacked by vampires that leaked from the pages of books into our world, he barely manages to escape. To his horror he discovers that vampires have been attacking other magic-users as well, and Gutenberg has been kidnapped.
With the help of a motorcycle-riding dryad who packs a pair of oak cudgels, Isaac finds himself hunting the unknown dark power that has been manipulating humans and vampires alike. And his search will uncover dangerous secrets about Libriomancy, Gutenberg, and the history of magic. . . .
Stand alone or series: First in the Magic Ex Libris series
How did I get this book: Review copy from the author
Why did I read this book: I’ve enjoyed Jim Hines’ Princess Series and have been waiting anxiously for Libriomancer.
A man walks into a fight and he is armed and dangerous. His weapons of choice are…books. SciFi and Fantasy paperbacks to be more precise, tucked away inside larger-on-the-inside pockets. His main allies are a kick-ass dryad who can shape any wooden object into a WMD and a devoted spider with…spidey senses and the ability to set things (including itself) on fire.
The man is called Isaac Vainio and he is a Libriomancer, a member of a secret organisation founded centuries ago by Gutenberg (the inventor of printing). Any Libriomancer is a magician with the special ability to reach into books and bring forth anything from them: healing potions, ray guns, etc. At the book’s opening Isaac has been working as a librarian after being demoted from the field for his tendency to overuse magic. He loves books and reading more than anything but he misses the ability to use magic – so when he is attacked by a trio of Meyerii vampires (created out of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight books) and is forced to go back into the field to investigate the reasons behind the attack, he is more than eager to do so. But then his findings lead him into dangerous situations involving all kinds of vampires and Gutenberg’s kidnapping – not to mention that the very future of Libriomancy is at stake.
From the get go, Jim Hine’s Libriomancer is full of awesome imagery and cool shenanigans. I mean, what could you possibly expect from a book where the magic of reading is not only metaphorical but a literal thing? In that regard Libriomancer is any book-geek’s dream come true. It is so much fun and an ode to books, to reading as well as to genre-fiction especially Scifi and Fantasy.
It also has a really clever and thought-out magic system with internal logic and rules that must be upheld. Gutenberg actually created printing so that he could use it to improve his own magic because in this world the more a book is read the more powerful it is. But why can’t someone just reach into a book and draw forth say…a time machine, you might ask? Well, they could, but the most dangerous books are locked away and objects that could potentially destroy the world or alter events are not reachable.
That said, to say that the book is fun and light does not mean that it is frivolous. Quite the contrary, actually. From the creation of Libriomancy to how one can use that power and who gets to decide what is dangerous or not; from the way people interact with stories to how stories are created and how those creations affect the world or vice versa, the book has its really serious side as well.
In that sense, even though I loved the amusing and fun side of Libriomancer what truly resonated with me was its exploration of power and responsibility. That is incorporated into the story in many ways but the most obvious one is via its main female character, Lena, the kick-ass dryad. Lena was brought forth from a book – a book that was part of a series of books famed for its portrayal of sexual servitude. The dryads in those books change their surface appearance according to the desires of their lovers and they exist only to fulfil someone’s fantasy.
Lena is aware of this, accepts it as her reality and tries to cope by not letting this aspect of her personality define her and by choosing her lovers carefully. She is in a relationship with another woman and is also developing another relationship with Isaac – both lovers would inevitably be able to control Lena should they wish to, given her nature (thankfully, this freaks Isaac out as it has freaked her other lover out).
Of course, this could have been extremely problematic but I felt that the author dealt with his own choice of creating such character really well as the text and all characters, including Lena, question this. By writing a character like Lena and questioning the way she was created within the story, the author is automatically questioning a whole history of problematic creation of female characters. It is an interesting conundrum to see Lena accepting who she is and trying to make the best of it, trying to make herself as strong as possible, as in charge as possible but all the time, at the back of one’s mind, there is the question of whether what she has with these two people is real. CAN it be real when Lena does not seem to have a choice? I LOVE the way it ends with regards to this love triangle and hopefully Lena’s arc will progress in a way that will make her completely free at some point as their story is not over yet.
Ultimately, I really enjoyed Libriomancer. It was an uncomfortable read at times with regards to Lena but that made the book less mindless fun and a lot more impacting and affecting for me. I can’t wait to see where this goes.
Notable Quotes/ Parts:
Some people would say it’s a bad idea to bring a fire-spider into a public library. Those people would probably be right, but it was better than leaving him alone in the house for nine hours straight. The one time I tried, Smudge had expressed his displeasure by burning through the screen that covered his tank, burrowing into my laundry basket, and setting two weeks’ worth of clothes ablaze.
The fire department had arrived in time to keep the whole place from burning. I remembered digging through the drenched, dripping mess my bedroom had become until I found Smudge huddled in a corner. With steam rising from his body, he had raced onto my shoulder and clung there as if terrified I was going to abandon him again. And then he bit my ear.
The four-inch spider was a memento of what I had left behind, one last piece of that other life. If magic were alcohol, Smudge would be
both sobriety medallion and the one whiskey bottle I kept around as a
While at work, he stayed in a steel bird cage behind my desk, safely out of reach of small children. More importantly, it kept the small children safely out of Smudge’s reach.
Additional Thoughts: We have interviewed Jim Hines in our weekly Kirkus column today. Go HERE to check it out.
Rating: 7- Very Good.
Reading Next: Ungifted by Gordon Korman
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