Review: Libriomancer / Author: Jim C. Hines / Publisher: Del Rey / Release Date: March 6th
Jim C. Hines’ Libriomancer is an urban fantasy novel, concerned with the magic of books. It weaves a tenuous narrative that dips in and out of history and centres around the unlikely ability of libriomancy. While the idea of books as a source of literal magic, of healing and escape, is a wonderful sentiment, the message outweighs the quality of the prose, and was a sentiment better expressed in Neil Gaiman’s 2013 novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane and the beloved Inkheart trilogy.
Protagonist Isaac Vainio is not nearly as likeable as his genre contemporaries, Harry Dresden or Odd Thomas for example, but his geeky disposition and believable love of the written word is relatable, and while you might find yourself frequently at odds with his often pathetic nature, he inspires enough pathos to stick with him until the end.
The fantasy genre thrives off the odd bit of silliness, from Terry Pratchett to Tolkien (Tom Bombadil, we're looking at you). While the novel is overly sentimental and full of more clichés than a Sherlock fan’s slash fiction, it’s not without charm and some genuine laughs. In no other fantasy story does there exist a spider quite as adorable as Smudge. This will be a much loved and well-read book in certain circles, even if that just means page turning to find your favourite novel's name checked.
By reading Libriomancer, you’re taking part in a game of spot-the-reference, a Where’s Wally of pop culture, and identifying these homages is half the fun, ranging as they do from cherished franchises such as Doctor Who and Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse novels to literary heavyweights like The Colour Purple. Some of the references get close to satire but most amount to simple name-checking. What you see is what you get.
There is an excitement to the story, an enthusiasm that can’t be denied, but every plot twist and turn can be explained away with libriomancy, removing any real sense of danger or immediacy. Underneath it all, Libriomancer is a twee, feel-good novel about the magic of books and sometimes it almost works.