Plot Summary (from the author’s website): Isaac Vainio has spent the past two years working at the Copper River Library in northern Michigan, secretly cataloguing books for their magical potential, but forbidden from using that magic himself . . . except for emergencies. Emergencies like a trio of young vampires who believe Isaac has been killing their kind, and intend to return the favor.
Isaac is a libriomancer, brilliant but undisciplined, with the ability to reach into books and create objects from their pages. And attacking a libriomancer in his own library is never a good idea.
But vampires are only the beginning. This was merely the latest in a series of attacks against members of Die Zwelf Portenære, a secret organization founded five centuries ago by Johannes Gutenberg to protect the world from supernatural threats. Among the casualties is Ray Walker, Isaac’s friend and mentor in magic.
Complicating matters further is the arrival of a dryad named Lena Greenwood. Lena packs a pair of wooden swords and proves to be quite adept at helping to beat down various magical threats. She also seems to be a little too interested in Isaac . . . not that he minds. Yet Lena’s nature could make her a greater threat than any vampire.
Along with a neurotic fire-spider named Smudge, Isaac and Lena set out to find and stop whoever is behind the attacks. But things are worse than Isaac imagined. An unknown killer of unimaginable power has been torturing and murdering humans and vampires alike. And Gutenberg, now more than six hundred years old, has disappeared.
As Isaac searches for Gutenberg and the murderer, hoping they aren’t one and the same, he uncovers dark secrets about magic’s history and potential. Secrets which could destroy Die Zwelf Portenære and loose a magical war upon the world. If Isaac is to have any hope of preventing that war, he will have to truly master the magic of libriomancy.
Assuming he doesn’t lose control and wipe himself from existence first.
Normally, I’m introduced to an author by purchasing an interesting-looking book. If I like the book, I’ll then seek out the author’s website, read more about them, and look forward to future purchases. But, happily, that’s not how I found this book at all. I first read Jim Hines’s blog when his post “Striking a Pose (Women and Fantasy Covers)” showed up in link roundups on several sites I read regularly. I, like about a million other people, really enjoyed the post (the follow-up, “Posing Like a Man”, is good too), so I added his blog to my reader. Lately, after months of reading the blog, I realized I hadn’t read any of his novels and set about correcting that situation. When Libriomancer was released last week I snapped up the e-book, and I’m pleased to say I was not disappointed.
We’re kind of big into books on this here website, as you may have noticed; I for one have lost count of the hours of sleep I haven’t gotten because I’ve been up well past reasonable hours, telling myself I’ll “just finish this chapter” (we’ve all said that at one time or another [this week], right?) Given this tendency of mine, Libriomancer delighted me in two different ways: first, because yet again I lost sleep, bargaining with myself at the start of every chapter, and second, because it’s obvious that Hines really loves books, and I felt at times like I was reading the world’s most interestingly-annotated “recommended reading” list. Seriously–I have half a dozen new books on my “to read” pile because I have read Libriomancer.
The concept of this novel sucked me right in. On its face, the “there are people with magical abilities, and they walk among us and have Very Interesting And Also Sometimes Dangerous stuff that they deal with” storyline is not new, but I loved the interesting twists and quirks the author incorporated into Libriomancer. In addition to the usual (heh) sorcerers, necromancers, and vampires that show up in these types of novels, Hines gives us libriomancers: people whose magical gifts stem from books and the collective belief of readers. I liked that some of the politics of this magical world are explained (case in point: how do they stop an untrained or malicious libriomancer from using, say, Tolkien’s Ring of Power?), and I like that the protagonist’s story isn’t a “hero with perfect judgment rises to the occasion/fulfills destiny” story; Isaac is flawed, and while he is a gifted libriomancer, he has made significant mistakes in his past, which are a source of both frustration and growth for him. Oh, and also: remember those sorcerers, necromancers, and vampires? They are also presented with some interesting twists. For example, there isn’t just one type of vampire in the world of Libriomancer. Instead, there are species of vampires that display the characteristics given to them by the authors of significant vampire stories throughout history. So Stephenie Meyer’s sparkly, super-fast, super-strong vampires for whom daylight is just an inconvenience? Yep, they’re here. Their introduction was my first laugh-out-loud moment when I read this book, but it wasn’t my last!
In addition, Hines writes some wonderful characters. As much as I liked Isaac, I adored Lena Greenwood, a serious bad-ass with amazing backstory and depth of character. She is smart, compassionate, pragmatic, and Isaac’s equal in every way–not a “damsel in distress” in the slightest (she saves Isaac’s ass at least as many times as he saves hers). The supporting characters in Libriomancer are more richly detailed than I typically find, too: without derailing or unnecessarily bogging down the text, the reader gets glimpses into their personalities, quirks, and struggles. Also, hello diversity! These characters mirror real life, with varying ethnicity, gender identity, age, sexuality, degrees of neurotypicality (is that a word? It is now…) and physical ability–and none of these traits are presented as The Single Defining Characteristic of the character. It’s just who they are.
Sure, Libriomancer can be campy; it’s good fun to read, and the homage to (in particular) science fiction and fantasy is unapologetically front-and-center. For readers who aren’t familiar with the seminal works of this genre, you may be a little adrift, but the author includes enough description to keep the story moving. I am not a huge SF/F reader in general, so I believe I may have missed out on some of the humor and finer points which probably added significance to the text, but I was able to keep up, and Isaac’s (and Hines’s) appreciation has caused me to reconsider some of these books (hence the “to-read” list). In later installments in the series–yes, it’s a series, which did not bother me, because this book can stand on its own, even though there are clearly Issues Still to be Resolved with the larger story arc–I really hope to see some libriomancers who are drawn to different genres. When battling supernatural creatures, I’m sure SF/F is probably the safest bet, but it would be really interesting to see how another character would use a different genre of choice. Seriously, fending off a vampire with a memoir (just not Marley & Me, please), or Jane Austen, or a 1992 Honda Accord repair manual? I am so there.
The Verdict: Libriomancer is a fun, fast-paced adventure, with enough mystery to drive the story along, enough book nerdery to satisfy just about any reading fanperson, and enough humor to make the ride enjoyable. I would recommend that anyone who likes reading science fiction and/or fantasy give it a try, and for those who do not, I believe you still may find quite a bit to like. The plot isn’t entirely resolved (naturally, this being the first in a series), but it stands on its own enough to make the wait for the second book bearable. I give Libriomancer four and a half out of five automatons (so watch out for that fifth one; it’s only got its left side but I’m sure that makes it no less dangerous…)