Page File The Invisible Library has been billed by the publishers as a sort of Doctor Who meets spy thriller, where a secret society of spooks skip through alternate worlds and times looking to collect books on behalf of the eponymous library.
Irene is the librarian in question, part spy, part thief, who uses her wits and the Language – a sort of Library magic – to get her hands on the books the Library wants. Having just returned from a mission, she’s surprised to be almost immediately booted on to the next alternate world, with a mysterious and handsome new assistant in tow, a rival colleague on her trail and an apparently unstoppable evil foe to vanquish.
On top of all that, she’s only a junior librarian, something's off about the new assistant and the alternate world is rife with “chaos”, which in this case translates to fairy creatures, vampires, werewolves and other nonsensical magic influences.
It’s a lot to take in and, much like a Doctor Who episode, writer Genevieve Cogman has to work hard to explain why no one explains anything to anyone. All too often, you’re left with the distinct impression that rather a lot of potentially lethal adventures could be avoided in fiction if anyone was the least bit honest with each other or realised that taking the time now to explain things rather than waiting till later might actually save time in the long run.
A lot of literary invention seems to go into the long strings of coincidences and misunderstandings that try to explain why no-one said anything in the first place.
This is definitely a problem with The Invisible Library. It doesn’t really ever make sense that Irene’s supervisor would send her off on such a dangerous and complicated mission in the first place, given her junior position, much less why she would send her off with so little information.
It’s also a bit hard to believe that an intelligent, naturally curious person like Irene would have next to no theories on why it is that the Library is collecting books, what its ultimate purpose is and other unanswered questions that could well be a nice set-up for a string of sequels.
However, this novel has no pretensions to grandeur. It’s a playful, slightly farcical, spy adventure story that happens to include time travel, alternate realities and an out-of-time Library and it does very well at that. Irene is the perfect mix of ordinary with flashes of genius that you expect would do very well as a spy and her supporting cast of dashing assistant, sexy rival and Great Detective-type are all very enjoyable.
Everyone dashes around alternate London, implausibly running into other major characters, enduring crazy chaos effects like cyborg alligators and generally having a splendid time. Read it at the gallop it’s been written at and you can skate over the worst of the plot-holes.
What little is explained about the deeper goings-on is kept until the end, which is a bit frustrating, but perfect for that string of sequels I mentioned, and there’s enough there that at least a couple of them could be worth picking up. ®
Title The Invisible Library
Release date 15 January (UK) / 15 December 2014 (US)
Price £3.59 (Ebook) / £5.59 (Paperback)