I’m an unabashed fan of fantasy fiction, but the genre has changed massively in the last five years. A few years ago, most fantasy novels were fat books with lots of story lines and a setting that was usually medieval. These books take a certain patience until all of the plot lines and characters are clearly established, but can pack a real wallop of excitement and emotion when the story comes together.
Now, urban fantasy has at least half of the market. The books are shorter, have a clear central character, and are lighter reads. It’s a format that doesn’t usually work for me. The books don’t have enough depth for my tastes, and when they do, that depth often comes after several books. In particular, the contemporary setting makes it hard for me to suspend disbelief, and I can’t buy into the fantastic elements enough to become engrossed.
Jim C. Hines’ Libriomancer, the first in a new series, was a happy exception for me, perhaps because it’s centered on the book world and the magic that can come from reading good fiction. In this case, that magic isn’t just symbolic, it’s a literal manifestation. The book follows Isaac Vainio, a librarian on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. As an encounter with vampires in the book’s first chapter makes clear, Isaac is more than just a book lover: He can reach inside books and pull magic from the pages.
As the story develops, the reader learns more about Isaac’s back story and the limits and costs of his magic. Isaac was once a practicing field agent for the Porters, a group founded and led by the still-living Johannes Gutenberg. They work, unknown to regular folk, to keep other magical figures like vampires under control and to prevent rogue libriomancers from doing wrong. Isaac got in trouble and has been reduced to the role of cataloger. He looks at new books and makes sure that the magic potential in them won’t accidentally destroy the world. As the book opens, the Porters are losing control as mysterious forces attack them on several fronts.
Isaac returns to active duty, but he’s in a precarious position, without the full support of the Porters, who may be succumbing to internal forces, and targeted by a host of powerful enemies. His allies are his pet fire spider Smudge and Lena, a dryad who’s a fierce warrior and whose magic makes her a powerful love draw to those with whom she bonds. These two provide plenty of comic relief and add some physical power to Isaac’s magical gifts.
What really makes this book click for me, however, are all of the loving references to fantasy and science fiction titles that Hines works into the plot. He clearly loves this literature, and cleverly finds a way to make its imaginative power into something more real in his book. Libriomancer is the start of a series which I’ll follow closely. I predict it’s the series that will make the well-reviewed Hines into a more household name.
Check the WRL catalog for Libriomancer