Fiction — print. Roc, 2016. Originally published 2015. 341 pgs. Library copy.
Irene is a librarian; she retrieves books from alternate worlds that are unique versions or hold prominence in another culture. After successfully completing a mission, she returns to the Library — a mysterious, shadow organization that straddles worlds — planning to enjoy a cup of tea and a good book.
Her plans at shot immediately, though, when her supervisor informs Irene that she must leave immediately to retrieve a copy of fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm. Her boss won’t tell her why this particular version is important or why she’s being sent to a version of London infested with chaos. All she is willing to do is provide Irene with a trainee named Kai as her back-up.
Irene is immediately thrown into her next mission and so is the reader. There is little explanation about the Library beyond the fact that it is a large, cavernous place — it takes days to cross on foot — whose employees steal books. There is even less explanation about the larger world Irene lives in. As a result, I struggled to picture the events of this novel in my mind.
I assumed this parallel universe version of London was located in Victorian times, but then the characters were able to take flying contraptions across the city. I could never picture how the characters looked, especially the werewolves, Fae people (fairies), and vampires her inhabit it. (Some members of my book club expressed shock when they learned Kai was Chinese, although I caught that description pretty early on in the book.)
Fantasy and science fiction are not my typical genres, and I find novels in those genres need to be richly detailed in order for me to understand and appreciate the world the author is crafting. Rarely could I appreciate this version of London because Cogman’s novel is heavy on dialog and sparse on details.
As such, I kept thinking that maybe this would make a better movie than book — a rare reaction for me — because then this alternate world would be colorful and rich and created, allowing Irene’s adventure to be the focal point. It might also add more dimensions to Cogman’s characters; many of them felt undeveloped and replaceable to me.
More dimensions to the characters and more descriptions about the world Irene lives in may come with later books in the series. However, I have no plans to continue with the series. The ideas are there, but the execution ultimately didn’t work for me and I wasn’t intrigued enough to continue.