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Review: The Invisible Library – Genevieve Cogman

Secret libraries between worlds. Dragons. Magic. Spies. Vampires. Fae… This book promises everything. But did it deliver?

The concept is nothing short of inspired. If I were a novelist, this is the kind of story I’d want to write. The book follows Irene and apprentice Kai who are librarians that travel through dimensions to procure rare texts. Irene has a power called the language that allows her to speak to objects and bend them to her will. (A power I would use for evil.) Irene and Kai team up with famous London detective Vale in a Steampunked Victorianesque London to solve the mystery of a Missing book of Grimm Fairy-tales. They’re not the only ones in pursuit of the text and soon come face to face with the forces of evil.

It’s a perfect light, fun, hangover read and an ambitious first novel for the author. The challenges the characters face are creative and the pace builds towards a satisfying pay off. I did however struggle throughout to really engage with this book. I found myself having to overlook a lot of questionable happenstance in order to get on-board. The writing is jarring, it talks down to its readers and the development of characters and their relationships lacks natural progression.

Irene feels stuffy. While Kai lacks any firm traits aside from being devilishly handsome and moody. Vale is a cool, essence of Nick Valentine from Fallout style detective, but he isn’t enough to carry the story. The disengagement I felt toward the majority of the characters meant I was completely unmoved, even when the stakes were high. The worst part for me was the relationship building. At one point I recoiled.

(SPOILER)

There’s a bizarre and cringy sexual conversation that is just so not cool. You have to read it to feel the full force of the disturbia that ensued within my mind. It pushed what feels like a book for a far younger audience into the boundaries of more mature readership, without adding any additional depth. Nothing about it served the plot, and it weakened all of the involved characters as a result. Cue a disappointed and quizzical reading face.

This compounded my overall sense of confusion. Part of me loves the ambition, but a larger part thinks too much was crammed in 329 pages. There is so much going on, backstory, magical creatures, unspoken truths, balancing chaos and order within worlds! The sheer scale of explaining that needed to take place in order to understand what was going on meant that the arch of the story was overwhelmed by the mythology surrounding it.

Overall this book has left me completely torn. It’s a valiant effort that made for an interesting read but I still feel it fell short of it’s full potential. I’ll be giving the second book The Masked City a chance in the hope that this series will go on to be the epic fantasy adventure it could be.

Have you read it?
What did you think?

Let me know in the comments below!

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