The world needs more ass-kicking librarians and this novel by Jim C. Hines delivers. The first book in the Magic ex Libris series, Libriomancer is the first-person perspective adventure of Isaac Vainio, a disgraced and exiled Porter. He used a Martian death ray to burn down a house and barn and the people in it, so now he’s a librarian, stuck cataloging books and their dangers/uses for other active Porters. At least for the first few pages.
Literally. (No, I could not resist that pun.) Isaac and those like him can pull objects out of books. Any object, real or imagined, as long as it can fit through the physical boundary of the pages. On the real side of things, one libriomancer uses a book on WWW1 to unleash mustard gas. On the fantastical side, there are numerous scifi ray guns and magic swords. Not to mention more insidious things, like hypno-spray and zombie viruses. I wasn’t kidding about books being weapons.
A libriomancer’s library is their arsenal, and Isaac has a long coat specially made to hold a lot of books—I don’t remember the exact number and I’m not going to try to look it up, or else I’ll spend all night rereading the book instead of writing this post. But think upwards of twenty book, each of them chosen for their offensive or defensive potential. And Isaac was sentenced to cataloguing instead of memory-wipe partly because of how good he is at recognizing those potentials. Of course, there are still limits on what a libriomancer can do, aside from that book size thing.
2—Intriguing Magic System
I love a well-thought out system of magic. The problem with anything being possible, is that anything is possible. There’s no way to create tension or a sense of realism when there aren’t any consequences or genuine threats. And there’s nothing that makes a story seem contrived faster than an un-answered or poorly-answered “why don’t they just…” question. So I’m happy Jim has addressed those points.
It turns the real reason Guttenberg invented the printing press was because he couldn’t do magic on his own. By mass producing books, it allowed him—and others—to tap into the collective belief of readers. Of course, to pull something from a book, it has to be believed in. Just one or two readers doesn’t cut it. It also has to be the same edition of the book, so they can’t just print giant size versions to use to pull out larger objects like tanks either. There are more rules too, like using one book too much “chars” it and makes it useless for magic.
Then there’s the direct costs on the user. Libriomancy burns a hell of a lot of calories, while also destroying the appetite. This causes health issues, severe enough that the Porters have mandatory downtime after missions. And they do have to enforce that mandate because using magic is kind of addictive, though that could also be tied into the obsessive nature of those who become Porters. There’s also the problem of what happens when you reach into books for too long.
3—Multiple Artificial Personalities
Just when you thought the health issues couldn’t get any worse—I should not be smiling like a maniac over this, but I am. When you reach into a book, it reaches back into you a little. The characters start to creep into your thoughts until you can’t tell who you are anymore. This almost happens to our hero—and reading that kind of thing from 1st-person POV is pretty damn scary—and the villain did it to himself deliberately. There are so many people vying for control of his thoughts, it’s amazing he’s still alive. Of course, he knew his plan would kill him shortly after driving him mad. No one’s scarier than a true believer, which is why they make great villains. Of course, you might not consider him a villain. He is, after all, trying to save the world.
And while we’re on complex characters, I should introduce you to Lena.
4—Menage a Tree
Those of you who’ve read the book already are groaning at that pun, and those of you who haven’t will be shortly. Lena is a dryad—a tree nymph. Pulled out of a book while she was an acorn, she’s adjusted to the real world better than other sentient characters, by which I mean she’s sane. She also requires a lover. That’s just the way she was written. And with Nidhi Shah, Lena’s current lover and Isaac’s former psychiatrist, kidnapped by vampires… Lena’s afraid that if Nidhi is turned, Lena’s own loyalties will go with her. So Lena is asking Isaac to become her new lover and source of identity. Yes, that is massively screwed up but Jim makes the story work, and makes Lena one of the strongest characters of any gender that I’ve encountered.
Jim also doesn’t let this turn into a typical romance, which is the other reason I love Lena so much, and the book. I am so bored of all the usual love triangle tropes. Firstly, when Nidhi is saved, Lena goes back with her instead of with the male hero. Secondly, it turns out having two lovers has given Lena more freedom of choice of self than she’s ever had before, so she asks Isaac and Nidhi to both stay hers. They agree, but it’s not going to be an easy happily-ever-after. There’s going to be a lot of adjusting to do for all parties involved.
I cannot wait to get the rest of this series! Especially as the last book is about to come out. Though maybe I should wait until the semester is over. If I start on the rest of them now, I’ll just mainline books for several days and I’ll miss a lot of assignments. So Christmas present to myself it is! Both the books, and the time to read them.