Author: Jim C. Hines
Series: Magic Ex Libris #1
Publisher/Copyright: DAW, 2012
About a year ago, I was walking about in Barnes & Noble killing time and looking at books when the cover of Libriomancer caught my eye. Now, I’ve seen a good deal of criticism of the cover art on the internet, and I’ll admit that there are perhaps a couple issues with it on closer examination, but it served its purpose and got my attention. I snapped a picture of it with my phone, intending to check it out from the library (Hey! I was broke!) and promptly forgot about it. Months passed, and I found The Little Red Reviewer’s blog where she gave the book a glowing review (which you can find here). With it back on my radar, I tracked down a copy…which sat in my to-be-read stack for far too long. Oh well, I finally got around to picking it up, and I have to say that this was a truly incredible ride.
Most of us (at least if you’re reading this) know that books are magic. How else are you able to travel faraway lands and have exciting adventures without ever leaving your house? Books have a magic all their own. But for those with the gift, this magic goes even deeper. According to Mr. Hines, there are two factors when dealing with magic: access and form. Access is the innate gift–either you’ve got it or you don’t. Form, now that’s the hard part…you’ve got to have an incredible amount of willpower to form even the simplest object. Or you did, until Johannes Gutenberg hit on the idea of harnessing the collective belief of the masses. Get enough people reading the same book and so long as you have access you can form whatever you want from its pages. So long as it will fit through the book, at least. Then of course there are items deemed far too dangerous to be allowed to be accessed, their books “locked” to prevent Libriomancers from accessing them. No Rings of Power, no time turners, no zombie plagues. Gutenberg runs the Porters as a benevolent dictator, granted immortality by the Holy Grail before he locked it away, and the Porters try to protect the world from the effects of magic run amok, concealing the existence of vampires, werewolves, and any number of other creepy-crawlies. Gutenberg’s Automaton golems serve as his personal enforcers and cops, keeping anyone from causing too big an issue. It’s a system that’s worked for hundreds of years…but now it may be falling apart at the seams.
Isaac Vainio is a Porter, pulled from fieldwork after proving he lacked the control necessary to operate safely without endangering himself or others. These days he works as a librarian, cataloging new books and their magical potential for the Porters. It’s not what he’d like to be doing, but he can’t really complain. At least until a couple of “sparklers,” an upstart vampire race more properly known as Sanguinarius Meyerii, crash his library and start demanding to know why the Porters are hunting vampires. The legitimacy of your complaints aside, attacking a Libriomancer in a library? That’s a really bad idea, even if he’s a little rusty. Isaac never was one to leave well enough alone, and he soon discovers that he’s not the only Porter to be attacked. In fact, someone has it out for Porters and vampires alike, hoping to start a war between the two. To make matters worse, Gutenberg is nowhere to be found, and some of the destruction could only have been caused by an Automaton…. Isaac is out to discover just what’s going on, joined by Lena Greenwood, a nymph with her own scores to settle, but with the entire magical world in an uproar there may be little they can do–and few people they can call for backup….
I really enjoyed this book, in case you couldn’t tell. It’s a little pulpy at times, but with more quality than you can reasonably expect from a genre experiencing such a population boom as Urban Fantasy is having at the moment. There were echoes of The Dresden Files in there, but not in a ripped-off sense. Inside this book you’ll find well-written characters, a convoluted plot, heroes, villains, moral ambiguity, mild philosophizing, snarky dialogue, and a narrator who is as big a Sci-Fi geek as I am. And that’s saying something!
I see a lot of reviewers on the internet, Goodreads in particular, who have a mistaken understanding of what Mr. Hines was doing with the character of Lena Greenwood. Lena is a dryad, born out of a cheap Gor knockoff. Are you unfamiliar with Gor and its reputation? Count yourself lucky. Short version, it’s a long-running sci-fi/fantasy series by John Norman in which he reveals his fantasies, writing about (and if Wikipedia is accurate, actually advocating for) a society where women are all subservient to men, especially sexually. Lena was pulled from one of the many knockoffs of this series, and being a fictional race is subject to the rules set forth in her novel. Essentially, she’s hardwired to be submissive to the desires and preferences of her lover. Her likes, dislikes, personality, and even to some degree her physical appearance will shift to align with what her lover wants her to be. Bad enough under normal circumstances, but her current lover has been captured by the vampires…. Now, I see a lot of reviewers expressing outrage over how Lena is written, but they’re all missing the point. Unlike with John Norman’s fantasy-fulfillment exhibitionism, which I get the impression was never meant to be anything but, you’re not supposed to be okay with how Lena was written. You’re supposed to be horrified for her, to sympathize, to see what that kind of writing would entail if pushed to its logical extreme. Mr. Hines isn’t being sexist, he’s exposing and protesting against sexism. Don’t believe me? Look up his Wikipedia article, especially the section linked here, and then tell me that I’m reading him wrong.
CONTENT: Violence, sometimes a bit disturbing. R-rated language. Sexual content and themes that, while not explicit, are most certainly not meant for younger audiences (See above).
UPDATE: Here’s a short story detailing Isaac’s first encounter with Smudge the fire spider, in which Mr. Hines refers to himself as a “midlevel hack.”