So, Libriomancers can take objects, magical or otherwise, out of fiction? It was clear very early that I had to read this book. Obviously, my first thoughts went to Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak which I would have out of the book in no time at all… My first Jim C. Hines novel didn’t convince me on all levels but it did make me want to pick up his other books.
Published: Daw Books, August 2012
Series: Magic Ex Libris #1
My rating: 6,5/10
First sentence: Some people would say it’s a bad idea to bring a fire-spider into a public library.
Isaac Vainio is a Libriomancer, a member of the secret organization founded five centuries ago by Johannes Gutenberg. Libriomancers are gifted with the ability to magically reach into books and draw forth objects. When Isaac is attacked by vampires that leaked from the pages of books into our world, he barely manages to escape. To his horror he discovers that vampires have been attacking other magic-users as well, and Gutenberg has been kidnapped.
With the help of a motorcycle-riding dryad who packs a pair of oak cudgels, Isaac finds himself hunting the unknown dark power that has been manipulating humans and vampires alike. And his search will uncover dangerous secrets about Libriomancy, Gutenberg, and the history of magic. . .
What sounds a little like the grown-up version of Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart (never liked that, btw), turns into a wild ride to solve mysteries, fight vampires, and ponder whether it’s okay to sleep with a dryad. As we follow sci-fi geek Isaac Vainio and his sidekick Lena Greenwood in order to figure out who’s attacking vampires and where the hell Gutenberg has disappeared to (yes, that Gutenberg), we encounter paranormal species, fictional weapons, and do a lot of sitting in cars, explaining the world to each other.
I have a problem with stupid main characters. On the one hand, we have this clever, funny man who can pull objects out of books and is just plain awesome. On the other hand, the same man knows the dangers of overdoing magic, but keeps constantly overdoing it. His reasoning (“We don’t have time for this.”) is usually ridiculous and annoying. I feel no pity for characters such as these when they do get into trouble. Other than that, I must say I did like Isaac a lot, despite his taste in women.
Which brings me to Lena. Carrying two bokken and being able to beat up a group of vampires does not make a strong female character. For the entire book, I wasn’t sure why she was there at all, except to give Isaac the occasionally awkward boner. Sure, she explains her reasons for seeking him out, but I just didn’t buy it. The rest of the book she is just asking things about the magic system and making Isaac uncomfortable with her sexual innuendoes. And for a girl who works with the Porters’ very own psychiatrist, she knows nothing about libriomancy… Sorry, but the occasional funny one-liner and a greek goddess’ body is not enough to make me care. And it doesn’t explain the insta-love Isaac seems to suffer from.
My favorite was Smudge, the fire-spider. And he can’t even talk.
Smudge raced down my sleeve, over the steering wheel, and onto the dash. Driving fascinated him. I had never figured out exactly why, but the old iron-and-ceramic trivet secured to the middle of the dash was his favorite spot in the world. As a bonus, in cold weather, he did a great job of keeping the windshield defrosted.
It’s no surprise then, that my biggest problem with this novel was the romance. Not only was it completely unnecessary but it was also unbelievable. Right at the beginning, we learn that Lena and Isaac have some kind of past and know each other. However, they spend most of their time explaining to each other who they are – in a very info-dumpy way. Isaac’s fantasies are fun to read, I grant you that, but even though Lena’s interest in him is explained fairly early, I still thought their romance felt too constructed, like the author just wanted to have a love story in his book. To me, it was superfluous and I would have preferred more world-building instead of constantly reading about Isaac blushing whenever some part or another of Lena’s voluptuous body pressed against him.
What Hines does really well though, is humour. It’s not always laugh-out-loud, it’s not always all that smart but it made me want to continue reading. The style reads very natural and the pages just rushed by, even when the plot wasn’t moving forward much. But I kept reading because the author managed to make me chuckle and threw in a lot of literary references – my inner geek is satisfied. This review may seem very negative, but you know how I am about characters. They are still the most important thing in a book for me. But reading this was actually quite a bit of fun.
“Showing up on an acquaintance’s doorstep and asking him to become your lover… your mate… isn’t normal. Not for humans.”
“Normal?” she repeated. “Yestarday you fed me cake from Wonderland so we could ride your spider into a magical basement and fight a vampire.”
This book could have been great, but turned out only mediocre. In the first chapters I had high hopes of jumping into a world that offered something new. But other than the one idea of pulling objects (read: weapons) out of books to use in real life, there isn’t much there. I loved the vampiresubspecies (sparklers, anyone?), and the rules libriomancers live by – such as “lock all super dangerous books that could kill humanity” and “take it easy on the magic!” (paraphrased by me). Also, the vampire-run children’s day care is probably one of the coolest things I’ve read about recently. However, a bit more world-building and less info-dumping without actually delivering any new info would have been good. The pace picks up again towards the end but it just wasn’t enough to make this a memorable read for me.
All things considered, I won’t dive into the next Magic Ex Libris adventure when it comes out, but I will try Jim C. Hines’ Princess series. I’m hoping that his take on fairytales mixed with his sense of humour will be more up my alley.
THE GOOD: Engaging writing style, references to recent SFF literature, and a geeky protagonist.
THE BAD: Repetitive info-dumping, a very one-dimensional female, and a terribly bland “romance”.
THE VERDICT: A flawed, yet fun read. If you can overlook the flat characters, you are in for a ride into literary geekdom.
BONUS: Smudge, the fire-spider. Stole my heart on the first page and grew on me throughout the book. I want one now!
A dog called Pac-Man who, in his puppyhood, tried to eat a ghost.
The Magic Ex Libris Series: