This is the first in an ongoing series, and a terrific starting point.
As an ex librarian I have a fondness for anything library-oriented so I wanted to like this a lot – and I did. Genevieve Cogman’s debut novel is a delight.
Irene is a junior librarian – an agent of the Invisible Library which exists between dimensions, but has access to all the alternate earths in the multiverse. It’s purpose is to collect and preserve all the alternate versions of important books that have been published in the various dimensions and the librarians are, essentially, book thieves (or sometimes book-buyers). Getting hold of the book seems more important that the morality of their methodology.
Sent to a steampunky alternate London to collect an important copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales Irene is given the bare minimum of information and saddled with a trainee, the elegant and handsome Kai, who is eager (maybe over-eager) to have a field assignment since he’s been cooped up in the library for the last five years, learning the ropes.
Irene is bonded to the library which gives her certain powers, including being able to speak the language of the library which enables her to convince (mostly) inanimate objects, such as locks to unlock. Kai is not yet bonded but seems to have a skill-set of his own, which is a puzzle to Irene at first.
Irene is wrong-footed, even before crossing over into the alternate London, by Bradamant, once her mentor and now a rival. Bradamant wants the gig of finding the Grimm, but Irene suspects both her motives and her authority, and manages to cross over and leave her behind. In the alternate she’s given, yet again, a bare minimum of information. This steampunk alternate is inhabited not only by humans, but by fae, werewolves and vampires. It’s been infected with chaos, and chaos magic and the library’s own powers don’t mix. The book’s owner, a vampire, has been murdered and the book is missing. Irene goes to investigate and quickly meets Silver, a fae who wants the book, and Vale, the Great Detective – that alternate’s analogue of Sherlock Holmes.
Irene and Kai battle mechanical crocodiles, werewolves, silverfish, Bradamant (again) and, most terrifying of all, a renegade librarian who is known for returning the vital organs of those librarians whose paths have crossed his – mostly in separate, neatly wrapped packages. Zeppelins and mechanical hansom cabs are involved as well as a very proper policeman called Singh and an elderly blackmailer. The action takes place across London, including, of course, the British Library and the British Museum It’s well-paced, inventive and a very satisfying read, with Irene and Kai both being engaging and well-drawn protagonists with their own strengths, weaknesses and backstories. Yes there’s a hint of attraction between them, but this is anything but a corset romance. It’s well worth reading the whole series to see how things develop.