Sunday, November 27, 2016

A library between worlds

For a book purportedly about a library, The Invisible Library, by Genevieve Cogman, has very little librarying going on here.
"I and Mr. Strongrock are agents of a library which exists between the alternate worlds. Our task is to collect books for the Library from all those worlds, to preserve them."
That's the premise. While the laws of physics are upheld throughout the worlds, they allow for magical elements and creatures like fairies and dragons, vampires and werewolves. Each world is governed by forces of order and of chaos, in varying degrees. I don't really see how all this jives with the claim that science remains true, but blah, blah, blah, suspension of disbelief, it's just a lame excuse to tell stories about different realities.

This story covers one particular mission in one particular alternate. This world is very Victorian-era steampunk, with a murdered vampire, zeppelins, and mechanical alligators. Our librarians seem to have stepped into a conspiracy, though whether it's masterminded by the Fae folk, the Iron Brotherhood, or Luxembourg is not clear. There's a bit of penny dreadful about it, as our chief protagonist, Librarian Irene, herself notes.

The book she's after is a version of Grimm's Fairy Tales. We're treated to a small sample of it, but my sense is that the object of the chase could have just as easily been another type of artefact.

Librarians also have access to the Language, a type of magic that seems to depend on naming things very precisely, but it's mostly just mysterious and convenient.

So what is the point of the Library? Although it opens onto all the alternate worlds, librarians are careful not to interfere in the workings of those worlds. They collect knowledge, but squirrel it away without ever really using it or even understanding it.
The conversation shifted, much to Irene's relief, into a debate on poetry that lasted for most of the journey. She herself was mostly silent, being more used to acquiring it than reading it.
Which doesn't seem very librarian-like to me.

It's a fun book, but mostly forgettable. I've had trouble focusing the last couple weeks, so this book was easy, not too demanding, and provided some distraction. There were some funny bits, and it reminds me a little of the Thursday Next books, but without the clever literary references. I won't be searching out the subsequent volumes of Cogman's series.


Stefanie said...

Nope, they don't sound very librarian-y, more like the librarians in the TV show with Noah Wiley. I think I am ok with having returned the book without finishing it. I am glad it worked out well for you though!

Isabella K said...

Yes, very much like the Librarians — I meant to say that. I'd stick with that, as TV at least lends itself to multi-tasking.