This was a lot of fun in exactly the way I needed right now. Books about books and libraries are, of course, like catnip to a reader like me—yet at the same time, they can often be a letdown. Not so with The Invisible Library. Genevieve Cogman understands how to take the premise of an interdimensional library and wrap it up in enough mystery and intrigue to keep a story going.
Irene is a Librarian, and her job is to acquire books from alternative realities for the Library. Sometimes this means she is a spy and a thief, if the book is hard to come by. Hot on the heels of returning from a stressful mission, Irene gets saddled with an apprentice and sent on a dangerous mission to an alternative Victorian London with vampires, werewolves, and Fae. The book they’ve been sent to retrieve has already been stolen, and as Irene and her protégé Kai try to investigate, they get pulled deeper into this reality’s politics. Meanwhile, a clear but chilling warning from the Library alerts Irene to the presence of a dangerous nemesis—a former Librarian who turned his back on the Library and all it stands for.
I enjoyed pretty much every aspect of this book. It’s a page-turner, with excellent cliffhangers at the end of each chapter. Cogman balances exposition and narration, letting us in on just enough secrets of the Library without spending too much time showing us how proud she is of this multiverse of hers. Irene is a good protagonist: solid, reliable, sassy, but also fallible and prone to enough setbacks that she doesn’t becoming annoyingly invincible. Similarly, the character dynamics in this book are top notch: I loved how Irene navigates her professional relationship with Kai, and I also enjoyed the way that Vale grows in importance as the story progresses.
The plot went in directions I didn’t expect but which only enhanced the story. As I said in my introduction, I think that books with this kind of premise often fail to realize that an interdimensional library is in and of itself a setting, not a story. So it’s for the best that most of this takes place within a particular version of Victorian London (yes, there are airships, don’t fret), and aside from the beginning and ending of the story, the Library is more of an idea, an affiliation of Irene and Kai’s, than an actual place or power. While that might change in future books in this series, I think much of Cogman’s plotting decisions in this book make so much sense.
So all of this combines into what I would describe as a romp as the characters move through a series of set pieces—investigations, parties, runaway carriages, airship chases and whatnot—that culminate in quite a spectacular showdown with the Big Bad. I found the ending to be rather rushed—not just the battle itself, but the denouement of the story offers precious little resolution, just the promise of more fun for Irene (and, presumably, the reader) in the future. It isn’t quite a cliffhanger—you could read this book, and only this book, and have a satisfying adventure story—but it is most definitely a tease that the best is yet to come. How you feel about such an ending is dependent on you; sometimes it excites me, but in this case it actually cooled my flames a little.
Nevertheless, I don’t want to damn this book with faint praise! The Invisible Library is delightful. It absolutely lives up to its premise, from the very first page onwards. As long as you don’t expect it to be more than it promises, you are going to be very satisfied with this cute and clever read.