|Cover by Neil Lang|
Pan, 14 December 2017
Many thanks to Pan for an advance copy of this book.
As the fourth instalment of her adventures opens, Irene Winters is in trouble. In quest of a book, she's stumbled into a nest of vampires and is about to have her veins opened.
And it only gets worse from then on...
I think I can safely say that these stories of Irene and her desperate, book-seeking journeys are - alongside anything by Emma Newman or Charles Stross - my favourite ongoing series.
It's something about Irene herself: the kick-ass librarian who drills like a laser through reams of alternate realities pursuing the precious books that will bind the universe together, once gathered in the multidimensional Library. Irene has a dream job and I envy her (despite the inevitable peril).
It's also something about that Library itself, the ultimate book pile, protruding into this street on one Earth, that quad on another, enormous, serene, self-contained, safe. (Or perhaps not so safe - as we saw in the previous three books that it could be menaced and Irene was only able to save it at some personal risk - and cost).
But most of all it's Cogman's writing. The pithy, sharp references, such as how, to befuddle pursuers, Librarians have adopted that pop culture phrase "These are not the [whatever] you're looking" in their ur-Language that can alter realities. The unbridled violence and chaos that follows in Irene's well-meaning wake. The perfectly realised alternate Earths (and other worlds).
Most of all, though, it's the joy that Cogman takes in her creation, like a genial deity who has made a world and seen that it is good.
If that whets your appetite, this book would be an excellent jumping-on point (is that a thing?) It doesn't require any knowledge of the earlier plot and is basically a standalone adventure for Irene and her dragon apprentice Kai. Drawn into murky dragon politics (rather than the machinations of the Fae) Irene is co-opted by Security to track down a Librarian who may be endangering the hard-preserved neutrality of the Library. She has to face off with mobsters, the police, molls and, worst of all, rogue dragons, in a 1920s New York analogue. There are speakeasies, artefacts and museum stacks together with lashings of mayhem
Taken together, these give the book something of an Indiana Jones crossed with Doctor Who vibe. It's deliriously captivating reading, real cliff-hangery, page turning stuff. Behind this, it is, though, the dragon politics that and their ultimate impact on Irene that I sense are driving this story and setting up future events. Irene is anxious to demonstrate the Library's neutrality, but has to confront the fact that Kai's presence seems to suggest something else. And Irene's personal feelings are engaged as well so that she begins to feel doubly compromised. What is she to do?
Cogman stokes the tension and attraction between Irene and Kai as a counterpoint to the main adventure until you just wish they'd let neutrality go hang and just... well, this is a respectable blog so I'll go no further. Let's just say there are Feelings here and leave it at that.
If you're looking for a present for the (urban) fantasy geek in your life, this may just be the one. And if you find they don't love it, well, perhaps that's telling you something about them.
One final thing. Reading this book I found actual silver glitter on my fingers. I think the magic's rubbing off on me!