The Invisible Library combines storylines I love: alternate Earths, steampunk, and libraries. That it is well-written comes as a pleasant surprise, as usually the stone soup approach to writing fiction results in indigestion from too much grit and too little real flavour. This is really tasty!
Her bio from the back of this novel is illuminating: ‘Genevieve Cogman started on Tolkien and Sherlock Holmes at an early age, and has never looked back. But on a perhaps more prosaic note, she has an M.Sc. in Statistics with Medical Applications and has wielded this in an assortment of jobs: clinical coder, data analyst and classifications specialist. Although The Invisible Library is her debut novel, she has also previously worked as a freelance roleplaying game writer. Genevieve Cogman’s hobbies include patchwork, beading, knitting and gaming, and she lives in the north of England.’ A nicely written bio I’d say!
The premise is charming: The Library collects certain works — say the original version of Paradise Lost —and adds them to what is a very large collection of books, all retrieved by Librarians who cross from one Earth to another, all arriving in another London. Each London is wildly different from all others — some are high tech and no magic, some are the opposite, and a few actually have both. And to complicate matters, sometimes Chaos intrudes upon an Earth. . . .
This Earth is called Black London by The Library staff. It’s following the archetypes of several popular literary work, such as Dracula. It’s a sooty, dark city where steampunk technology and magic are pretty much in balance. Irene and a Library Apprentice, Kai, are sent to steal a book by the Grimm Brothers. Why she is given a mission is something that the Senior Librarians don’t tell her, nor does she wonder why this is so, as that’s how it’s been for centuries upon centuries.
The world building, through casual conversation and such, is amazing, i.e. Irene, our Library Agent, mentions in passing that she was speaking to the Yoruban Ambassador, suggesting our African states don’t exist in that universe. Likewise, India was never part of the British Empire and is now an Empire in its own right but has close ties to England. And though the novel is set in contemporary times, the Russian Empire has flourished and grown much by conquering both China and India.
What ensues in the universe that contains Black London is a well-written romp with everything including steampunk cyborgs, an immortal evil Librarian (well so it seems), airships, elves, books that are wanted by, well, everyone, werewolves, vampires and a damn sight more. It’s good enough that I’m looking forward to the obvious sequel. Or sequels if the sales are good enough which I certainly expect!
(Tor UK, 2015)