Irene the Librarian is back and we are very glad to see her. The Masked City is a sequel to Genieve Cogman’s debut novel, The Invisible Library. The essential conceit of the novels is rather fun; the multiverse is split between Order (controlled by Dragons) and Chaos (controlled by the Fae). In the middle is The Library, a pan-dimensional realm filled with books from everywhere possible. Its agents, the Librarians, use the power of words to gather essential books and attempt to keep balance.
The Masked City begins in the same world as the last one; a steampunk world where the incursion of the Fae means that they are zeppelins dotting the sky and that incredible things are done with the right sort of clockwork. Our favourite book botherer, Irene, is put in a pickle when her companion and crush Kai is kidnapped by the Fae and dragged off to another world. Not only is this terribly inconvenient for Irene, it could also mean war between the Dragons and the Fae, because of Kai’s connection to Dragons.
This results in a quick tour of other parts of the multiverse. Worlds at the far end of Chaos are high-fantasy style mashes of magic and strangeness, whereas those realities with too much order are all about sharp suits, skyrise buildings and surveillance. This, mixed in with a clever (and simplified) meta-narrative on the nature of stories makes for highly entertaining reading.
There is a growing sub-genre of fantasy that seems to be rather British. Stories in which fantastic things lurk beneath the everyday and only a handful of specially trained people can deal with the strangeness are pretty standard fare, but the twist is that our heroes are hobbled by layers of bureaucracy and human resource management that tends to get in the way. Charles Stross’s Laundry series and Ben Aaronvitch’s Rivers of London books both do this, but Genieve Cogman’s books mix high-fantasy with bureaucratic charm quite effortlessly to form what is essentially a thrilling crime drama. With Dragons and Fae thrown into the mix for good measure.
The Masked City is an exercise in world-building and enchanting storytelling. Cogman’s style is to throw ideas at you at a reasonably high pace, making it very hard not to turn the page. Charming and spectacular fun.THE MASKED CITY / AUTHOR: GENIEVE COGMAN / PUBLISHER: PAN / RELEASE DATE: DECEMBER 3RD