The Invisible Library is one of these novels when you think "It ain't much but it's fun". It's even a bit of a pity that the novel has some flaws because the concept is attractive and intriguing...
Outside of the multiverse, there stands an immense Library (please note the capital L in case you hadn't noted it wasn't your average library). Its Librarians travel through the worlds to collect rare books, sometimes unique books, and bring them back to safety in the Library. They have all learned to speak the Language, a form of speech that affects matter, whether it is to open a locked door or to give life to stuffed animals.
Irene is one the Librarians. She isn't high in the hierarchy but she becomes the tutor of Kai, an apprentice. They are sent on a mission to retrieve a version of the Grimm tales in a highly dangerous world, contaminated by the forces of Chaos: fairies, vampires and other supernatural beings. And here they arrive in an alternate steampunk London to be soon caught between opposing forces.
The Library concept is fascinating: in a sense, it's amost a lovechild between "The Library of Babel" by Borges and a Neil Gaiman novel. But I regret that we spend so little time in it even though the plot seems to go back to it every other page. And while we could hope that the following volume finally settles in the Library, it's only briefly... I was quite frustrated by it...
The alternate London where most of the plot happens has got all the essential clichés of a steampunk London: smog, Sherlock Holmes look alike, cogs and machines, zeppelins... In the next volume, The Masked City, the story alternates between this London, the Library, a high tech world and a fantasy Venice. To which you add fairies, werewolves and a renegade Librarian.
Regarding the characters, Irene is a good main character and is pretty well rounded. Sadly, the others are mostly some walking and talking clichés. It is nice that Irene isn't swooning over her male counterparts. But the fact that she enjoys them as eye candy, even right in the middle of a crisis situation, seems to belong more to those so called fantasy romances even though the novel tries very hard not to be one.
So this is why "it ain't much": it's really full of clichés, even if The Masked City feels less awkward. "But it's fun" because the concept is intriguing and we can hope that Cogman will fully exploit them in the next volumes.
The next volume, The Burning Page, will be published in December 2016.
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