The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Unspoiled review: I didn’t like the book, the idea was great, but it developed badly.

Somewhere around the middle it became pretty boring. Even though I have the second part The masked city, I don’t believe I’ll continue reading this series.

(spoilers ahead) This book had a compelling idea and when I first discovered it, I couldn’t wait to start reading. It started fast, without much intro, the main characters seamed interesting, the concept of The Library and its work exciting (although familiar – do you remember the 3 film and 4 season tv show The Librarians?)  and travelling between universes had potential. But as the story progressed things started to be worse and worse.

My main issue is poor character development, frequent repetition of what should be “characterization” (mainly Irene’s) but ends up as stacking characters monologues that have no ground in the book, great number of characters who have a “mysterious” background and who are hinted to be important only to never be mentioned again (or they are saved for next instalments), and worst of all at one point it just gets boring to read.

The only two potentially interesting characters Kai and Silver are quickly sidelined for the constant forcing of Vale and quasi Sherlock Holmes vibes. Not only is Irene’s alleged obsession with detective novels and Great Detective personas constantly thrust upon us even though we never see her doing anything detective like, but Vale is also a plain, annoying and boring character who yet again has a mysterious background. To give an illustration of the problems the following passage represents them all:

Yes, she had to admit it, she had enjoyed working with Vale. It wasn’t just a case of her Great Detective fixation. (She’d always loved the Holmes stories. And the Watson stories. And even the Moriarty stories.) But there was more to Vale than just being a Great Detective. There was the prickly man who’d confessed to his split with his family, but who was still ready to help them when they asked. There was his surprising generosity and courtesy. There was even the humanizing touch that he’d lent Kai his dressing-gown, and she’d found them sitting over breakfast discussing airships. She wasn’t a child looking for a role. She was a Librarian with a job to do …..” 

Now to elaborate. Those situations mentioned are literally the only occasions on which our characters had any kind of interaction, nothing that Vale does supports claims of his surprising generosity, even the supposed humanizing touch is nothing more than logical behavior in the given situation (people stayed in your house for a night after you all almost got killed while working on a case – of course you’ll give them breakfast and dry clothes, I don’t imagine you want dirty Thames water dripping all over your carpets, what is so special about that?). Furthermore, his confession of his split with his family comes right at the beginning of the story with only purpose of creating fake mystery and has no impact on the story whatsoever and it doesn’t any create emotional reaction in readers.

I believe that forcing a detective, Holmesian story in what started as a fantasy didn’t work in this case. Too much emphasis on steampunk, zeppelins and mechanical bugs distracts from the plot, but doesn’t succeed in creating a familiar and elaborate world, the story had potential but would benefit from serious editing and rearrangement.