Monday, 19 January 2015

REVIEW: 'The Invisible Library' by Genevieve Cogman

Thanks to a friend of mine who works in a bookshop (definitely one of the best kind of friends that you can have), I was lucky enough to get my mitts on an advance reader's copy of this book so I actually read it over Christmas but, as the book only came out this week, have delayed my review until release. I'm going to keep the review spoiler-free for those who haven't yet read the book and, as usual, I'll include a link at the end to the Waterstones website, or you can go hunt a copy down from a friendly local bookseller or librarian. 

Irene works for the mysterious Library which harvests fiction from different realities. Along with her enigmatic new assistant Kai, Irene is tasked with retrieving a unique copy of The Brothers Grimm from an alternative, chaos-infested London. As if dangerous fae, supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic aren't enough to contend with, the Grimm is stolen before Irene and Kai can retrieve it - and it looks as if every underground faction is London is trying to find it before they do. Before long, the duo are up to their necks in danger and, if they don't secure the book before their enemies, the very nature of The Library - and even of  reality itself - will be at stake.

'The Invisible Library' is Genevieve Cogman's first novel and seems to be the first in a series set around the mysterious library of the title. At least, I hope it's part of a series, because the world and characters created could definitely span a number of books plus there are a few loose ends at the novel's conclusion that I hope a sequel will pick up on. Cogman lists Tolkien and Sherlock Holmes amongst her early reading, and has also previously worked as a freelance role-playing game writer. All three influences show in her work, especially the latter two  with one of my favourite characters in the book being an obvious homage to Holmes himself. 

I have to say I really enjoyed this book, although at the beginning I wasn't sure that I would. Many of the usual fantasy and sci-fi cliches are present and correct - a feisty heroine, a handsome and mysterious sidekick, a steam-punk version of Victorian London and a host of supernatural creatures. So at first I assumed I'd end up reading a version of something I'd read before. What made 'The Invisible Library' different for me however was the way in which Cogman combined these elements. All of the pieces that make up her world are nothing new in themselves, however the way in which she has combined them makes for a unique and interesting world. Using the Library as a link between these worlds also allows for a myriad of possible universes in future books, which should prevent the world from going stale as the series progresses. 

The characters are a little more cliche but they all have plenty of personality and the dialogue - especially between leads Irene and Kai - is quick and often witty. Irene is a likable lead - confident without being overly self-assured - and the supporting cast are all distinct and well-rounded, even if they appear only briefly. My only criticism is that I felt the attraction between Irene and Kai was a little forced - there's a somewhat awkward scene early on in the book that sets up some romantic tension which is, I think, meant to develop into softer feelings by the novel's end. Me? I just didn't feel it. That element of their relationship seemed forced - as if it had been shoe-horned in afterwards. Maybe this is something that will develop as the series progresses but, personally, I would have found it a bit more original if Irene and Kai had developed as friends and colleagues rather than having the beginnings of a romantic subplot forced upon them. 

That said however, I otherwise really enjoyed 'The Invisible Library'. It's a well-conceived, fast-paced adventure tale which I think will appeal to non-fantasy fans as well a those of us who already enjoy the genre and I will definitely be keeping an eye out for future books in the series. 

If you've already read 'The Invisible Library', or if you decide to read it as a result of this review, I'd love to know what you think so please post a comment below. I'd also happily accept recommendations of similar books you think might interest me, or of books that you've recently read or are looking forwards to reading. Otherwise, until next time, much love and happy reading!


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