Book Review: ‘Magic ex Libris: Libriomancer’ by Jim C. Hines

Posted: 18 September 2015 in Book reviews
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Isaac Vainio is a libriomancer and member of Die Zwelf Portenære. Two years ago, he was removed from field duty after an incident where he nearly lost control of himself. Now he is a cataloguer, holed up at the Copper River Library in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. To most he is a simple librarian, but behind this facade is a man who can pull items from books at will, which is where Smudge his fire spider came from. His job as a cataloguer is to sort through books and assess their danger levels. Those he feels could possess a high enough threat, like a zombie virus with no known cure, are locked so no libriomancer, trained or otherwise, can access them.

One day, he is attacked by a trio of sparklers, vampires from the Twilight series. He is assisted by Lena Greenwood, a dryad. Isaac is the closest Porter and someone she trusts now that her lover, Porter psychologist Doctor Nidhi Shah, has been kidnapped by vampires. He isn’t the only Porter who’s been attacked. His mentor was tortured and killed, and another turned into a vampire-like creature. With the Porters under attack by vampires, Isaac is thrust back into the field to discover who is really behind the attacks.

With Johannes Gutenberg’s disappearance, he is the likely culprit. But he created libriomancy, so why would he turn against them? Isaac senses that something more sinister is afoot after encountering a vampire with odd eyes who suddenly combusts at the destroyed library of Michigan State University. His suspicions are further confirmed after a risky venture to the vampire nest in Detroit. They find Nidhi alive and to keep her so, Isaac is told to bring back the body of their attacker. If he can’t, Lena is to bring Isaac’s body back.

So the race is on to learn who is behind it all. Isaac attempts a risky move resulting in his near death and house arrest from his superior Nicola Pallas. He resigns from the Porters as the only way to continue searching. With only the name Jakob Hoffman to go off of, he uses less dangerous methods and his knowledge of books to discover the identity of their target. This discovery also uncovers an ugly truth about the Porters and what they do to those they deem too dangerous. With time running out, Isaac and Lena use one of Gutenberg’s automatons to lead them where he is held captive. But will they be able to defeat an angry libriomancer set on the destruction of vampires and the Porters?

My Thoughts

Initially, the book frustrated me. I am one of those that adamantly detests Twilight and anything about it. So you can only imagine my disgust with this book at the early mention of ‘Sparklers’ a la Stephanie Meyer. I wanted to stop reading right then. There is no reason any respectable writer would ever support such horrible publications. But I kept on reading and kept the reference in context and survived. I’m glad I did as the book turned out to be much more interesting than I anticipated.

Isaac and Lena are the two main characters. Lena is probably the most developed of the two. She is a character from a book and is bound by specific character traits. That’s actually pretty cool. I mean it sucks that she lacks a true sense of agency, but she has actions dictated by the book she came from. Her nature is spelled out and completely justified. Both tragic and liberating once she understands who and what she is. Isaac is a pretty moral guy. He wants to do what’s right, but isn’t too bothered about toeing the line to do so. The only thing I wish had been more fleshed out was his ability to create magic without the books. It’s mentioned, but not really dealt with. I hope in subsequent books this aspect is explained further.

The writing is standard for any teen fantasy. It is really easy to read and follow. It flows really nicely. The story has been well crafted and is very interesting. I enjoyed how Hines made Gutenberg the father of libriomancy. It made complete sense. At least for me. I also liked that there were limitations to their magic and consequences for overusage of it. Very well developed. There is only one thing that frustrated me about the book. I’m totally fine with there being an element of love, especially considering Lena’s nature. My issue is with the resolution of it, i.e. the last few pages of the book. I cannot say how annoyed the ending made me. It actually kind of ruined it for me. Especially after such a climatic final battle. In my opinion, it cheapened the end as well as the lessened the value of the relationship between them all. Also, quite unrealistic.

All in all, I still plan on reading the second book in the hopes that it doesn’t turn into a soap opera. If there is one thing I can’t deal with, it’s unnecessary, ridiculous love stories. Otherwise, it is an enjoyable read. Enjoy 😉

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