Series: The Invisible Library #2
Published by Tor on December 3rd 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Steampunk
Our reviews of this author: The Burning Page, The Lost Plot
The Masked City by Genevieve Cogman is the second in series that got off to a great start with the Invisible Library. I think that this book could probably be read as a standalone however I would personally recommend reading the first in series because it’s just so good. I will forewarn you that whilst I will try to avoid spoilers for The Masked City the review may contain spoilers for the first book so please bear that in mind.
By way of context the Invisible Library is a library that exists in a different dimension. From within there appear to be no boundaries and the library is a vast labyrinth that can take days if not weeks to traverse. The role of the Librarians is to travel to alternate worlds and recover books that are about to disappear and then preserve those books for all time. Using an unusual form of magic the librarians are able to travel to alternate worlds by stepping through a portal within the library and coming out in a library ‘elsewhere’. The number of possible alternate worlds is immense and each one is different in terms of magical ability or occupants. In the first story we travelled to an alternate London where vampires, werewolves and fae lived amongst polite Victorian society and where steampunk inventions and clockwork animals ran amok. We were introduced to one particular Librarian and her new apprentice. Irene and Kai and we discovered that Kai was hiding the fact that he is actually a dragon.
At the start of The Masked City Irene and Kai are now stationed in the alternate London from their first adventure, Irene having been made Librarian in residence at the conclusion of the previous story. Things seem to be almost normal, or as normal as can be expected in this particular version of London, until Kai is kidnapped and Irene and Vale (a famous detective of the era with Holmes-like abilities) try to uncover the mystery of who took him, why and more importantly where!
The one constant in all of these possible worlds is that the fae encompass chaos and the dragons represent order. Therefore the two very rarely exist comfortably in the same universe and the more inhabited a world is by either one the less likely it is that the other will feel comfortable there. Of course the dragons and the fae are natural enemies and therefore it’s no surprise that Kai has been abducted by one of the more prominent members of the fae and taken deep within their territory, an alternate Venice where Carnival never stops. Kept in a secret (and even fae proof) prison Kae cannot exist in this world for long and Irene must rely on the very last person she would wish to – a member of the fae called Silver. Both with different motivations for saving Kai, the clock is ticking and the race is on to try and prevent war.
So, let me count the ways in which I love this series.
Firstly, the settings. Obviously we’ve already visited steampunk London and in this instalment we’re off to a Venice where Carnival never ends. Okay, you might be thinking that these settings have been used before, many times in fact, but Cogman has a wonderful ability to inject them with something new. With the first book we had Victorian Society and the rules that encompass it whilst at the same time the residents didn’t seem to bat an eyelid at fae soirees or swarms of book eating bugs, it just felt quirky. With the second we travel to Venice by train – and what an unusual train journey it is! And the setting of Venice seems to lend itself so well to the chaos induced world of the fae. Anything goes here as the fae all try to live out their own individual stories placing themselves at the heart as the baddie or hero, femme fatale or other, maybe lesser character within the tale. We travel on the canals at night with swirling fog that is perfect for hiding in and then we are startled by the intensely bright and vivid colours of a crisp morning spent on the Piazza San Marco. An alternately creepy and colourful Venice. We also travel back to the Library where Irene goes to seek advice and in the face of receiving very little takes matters into her own hands. She travels to Kai’s own world – which is such a stark contrast to the others that it yet again makes you realise how much scope there really is for this to become a really first class series. Here, she puts her neck on the line and takes responsibility for anything that might happen to Kai.
Secondly, the magic. I was constantly happily surprised by Irene’s librarian magic. I love it. It’s such a simple idea but so effective and quite deceptive in that although you think you have your head around the basics you’re more often than not proved wrong about exactly when and how Irene can best use the magic to help her. On top of this we have the fae lore and magic with their glamours and compulsion and then of course the dragons with their barely concealed fiery temperaments and their ability to control the water and tides.
Thirdly, the characters are easy to get on with. Irene comes across in one respect as quite naive but in spite of this she will take risks and she certainly isn’t a damsel in distress, in fact, time actually standing still within the confines of the library – I have no real idea of her true age. Of course we spend less time with Kai in this particular story but into his place steps Silver and what a cunning and sly old so and so he is! Strangely enough I find myself quite liking him. Vale also takes a little more of a backseat in this one which I didn’t mind – not because I don’t like him but I guess I like that the author isn’t going down the route of making Irene too dependent on either one but relying on her own abilities as much as possible.
Basically, I just really enjoyed this. It doesn’t suffer from second book syndrome which is always a pleasant relief. The pace is quick. My attention never wavered and in fact the whole experience is just downright good fun. I found myself hooked to the pages and grinning more often than not. I love a book with an obscene amount of imagination and this has an obscene amount.
A great concept, well executed, populated with just about everything and anything you can imagine. I can’t wait for the next one.