Irene Winters and Kai Strongrock are deep in enemy territory and deep in trouble and lack the time required to stop to explain, gentle readers; just run with them and hope there may be a chance later, if they survive. On a mission to the European Republic, in the world where that regime grew out of the unforgiving harshness of the French Revolution, they have been assigned to locate and return a unique book of great value to the Library.
Their objective obtained and with the understandably irked officers of the National Guard in hot pursuit, the Librarian and her apprentice prepare to exit back to their own realm when Irene is, impossibly, betrayed by the Language. Instead of the expected portal back to the Library, the doorway she intended to manipulate bursts into flames, engulfing the building in which they are trapped. Just well Kai is a shapeshifter, that dragons are impervious to rifle fire and can open their own rifts between worlds…
The third in Genevieve Cogman’s Invisible Library sequence, following the title volume and The Masked City, it is not necessary to have read the previous adventures of Librarian Irene Winters and her diverse associates but that familiarity will grant an advantage as the plot unspools breathlessly across the burning pages of the latest offering as the ongoing threat presented by the former Librarian-turned-evil-genius Alberich escalates, his quest for revenge now targeting the Library directly.
Set in a world of books and archetypes driven by the properties of the different worlds, Cogman makes no apology for the literary liberties she has taken, Ms Winters all too aware that Peregrine Vale, consulting detective of 221B Baker Street, exists in parallel with a famed fictional character from another universe whether he himself is aware of it or not, but that is part of the charm, to step through the charmed doors and meet those askew visions who dwell across the threshold.
There are moments of brief respite between the intrigue, betrayals, kidnappings and assassination attempts, Irene sitting in a darkened tea room with an inscrutable dragon on one side, an infuriatingly fey Fae on the other (Zayanna, who constantly calls everyone “darling!”) and a red-eyed greyhound at her feet, but with every character blessed with powers of some variety the whole feels like a “members only” club for those perfectly shaped to their own niche, Irene in particular never becoming more than a devastatingly talented magical spy endlessly dedicated to her calling.
The pages carry more than a whiff of (extremely well written) Doctor Who fan fiction, the limitless corridors of the Library which grant access to multiple worlds, the presence of Chinese dragons reminding of The Talons of Weng-Chiang, though rather than giant rats the sewers beneath London (in Vale’s world, at least) are occupied by werewolves, and as the use of magic becomes more prominent there are inevitable reminders of Harry Potter and all his friends and imitators.
The magic is intrinsic to Cogman’s multiverse but it is, for the most part, too convenient, too malleable and often too powerful as Irene commands objects to obey her will through the Language, making it difficult to generate depth or tension, though taken purely as a diverting and whimsical romp, the sugarcoated fantasy may be insubstantial beneath the sparkling decorations but is undeniably entertaining and maintains a brisk pace through a narrative which, unlike some such efforts, is neither overlong nor ponderously self-important.