My rating: 3 of 5 stars
**Thank you to the Berkley Publishing Group for providing me a digital ARC of this novel via NetGalley for the purposes of review**
I’ll be honest, I was a little hesitant about this book at first. The premise sounded fun, but I’ve been burned by books dealing with libraries before. Needless to say, I was very pleased that I found the front half of this book so engaging — I say the front half very specifically because by the end, this book lost a bit of its charm and began to feel a little stale.
The multidimensional setting is fantastic. I love the idea of the Invisible Library existing outside of space and time, as it brings in the multiple, parallel universes idea in seamlessly right from the get-go. Multiple realties can be hard to juggle, but Cogman does it very well, especially when each universe has varying degrees of magical and/or technological development. The only downside is, ironically enough, the Librarians themselves — or, more specifically, the role of the Librarians.
So the Librarians exist in order to acquire specific works of fiction that can then be housed in the Library; the rarer and more scarce the volume in question, the more valuable it is to the Library. This begs the question: why do they collect these books? Why do they keep them from the rest of the world instead of, perhaps, sharing this wealth of knowledge with the various dimensions? Well, if you were to ask our protagonist, Irene, it’s because the Librarians only care about books, implying that people are merely an afterthought. People are irrelevant, books are all. Look, I love books as much as the next guy, but I was astounded by this answer. It’s so incredibly selfish and borderline callous, that I thought I had misread it. Really? All you care about is books?
Without people, those books do not exist. To so easily eliminate any empathy or sympathy for other humans was astounding and, I won’t deny, chipped away at my initial like of Irene.
Due to its need for world building, the front half is invariably more interesting than the back half, which suffers from some tropes that I, personally, find rather annoying. First off: the emotional pitch of the novel hits a point and then simply coasts there, something which I found frustrating given the seemingly endless possibilities available to Cogman given that she’s written a world with a plethora of parallel universes. I’m assuming that will be part of the set-up for this series: to explore the various universes.
But it wasn’t just the plot that hit an emotional stasis, the characters did as well. The more time I spent with Irene, the less I cared about what happened to her — and given that she seems to get in trouble with just about every paranormal creature under the sun, that’s pretty impressive. But what I find more disconcerting is that every character that meets Irene develops feelings for her, or immediately respects her nearly-unconditionally, or just wants her on their team. This is one of my least favourite narrative tricks, and to see it so predominantly flaunted within this novel was a disappointment, compounded upon the fact that the only other two female (secondary) characters had to be either brainwashed to agree with Irene or were just downright unpleasant. It’s okay to have more than one “likable” female character, and it’s okay for your protagonist to not be desired by every single person she meets.
On the whole, there’s a lot of promise in this book, but the back half doesn’t quite deliver enough to have me want to continue the series. I know plenty of people who will disagree with me and love this novel, so I think, ultimately, it just boils down to the idea that this novel is just not quite my cup of tea.