Most of us had at least one lesson in elementary school analyzing how fairy tales change across cultures — Cinderella with a slipper of glass, or fur, or gold, or any number of things. The same principle holds true in “The Invisible Library,” except instead of differences occurring in literature across continents, it spans entire worlds.
The Library is a realm unto itself, existing outside of time and space. The doors within link to an infinite number of alternate Earths, and slightly different versions of books exist within each alternate.
The goal of the Library is to collect books from each world, which strengthens the link to the Library and helps balance the forces of order and chaos.
Enter the Librarians — universe- hopping agents of the Library who use espionage, trickery and outright thievery to acquire desired tomes. Junior Librarian Irene narrowly escaped her last alternate and is looking forward to a little rest before taking on another field mission.
Unfortunately, her supervisor has other ideas. Not only is she being sent to retrieve a book in a world infested with chaos, she’s been saddled with an apprentice, Kai, to drag along on the dangerous journey.
The London they arrive in is not the one we know. It has a steampunk/fantasy vibe with zeppelins, a suave Fae lord and giant mechanical bugs that have a proclivity to attack at the most inopportune times. Irene focuses all her energy on swiping the book from the house of a recently deceased vampire, but when she infiltrates the residence, it’s already gone.
Thus begins a madcap quest to untangle the book’s location, which becomes increasingly difficult as several local entities are equally interested in getting their hands on the tome in question.
The pervasive presence of the corrupting chaos forces allow author Genevieve Cogman to take an “everything but the kitchen sink” approach in regards to what gets thrown at Irene and Kai. Here’s a little taste, taken from a rant by Irene: “So far — so far just today — I have coped with discovering the skin of a senior Librarian, with running into a trap of chaos energies, with an attack by alligators … and with an attempt to drown us in the Thames.”
This book could’ve easily become childishly harebrained, but the “anything goes” approach actually works rather well and is highly entertaining. There are lots of nods to the literary world at large, including purposefully blatant references to common storylines, such as Irene getting swept up in a Sherlock Holmes fantasy when she and Kai partner with a London investigator.
Despite its largely lighthearted feel, there are things about “The Invisible Library” that keep it grounded, namely the Librarians’ lack of altruism. Unlike the protagonists of most fantasy books, the Librarians aren’t interested in helping the worlds they sneak into, even when chaos forces threaten to destabilize all of reality.
They are there for the books and only the books. Having grown up in the Library, the selfishness of this attitude doesn’t naturally click for Irene, and it provides unexpected tension when it’s pointed out to her.
This internal struggle between the Library’s institutionalized non-interference and Irene’s budding personal convictions becomes even more prominent in “The Masked City,” which follows up “The Invisible Library” and hones in on the universe-wide fight between chaos and order.
“The Invisible Library” showcases Cogman’s insanely imaginative creativity and sets the stage for a series where anything is possible.
There’s a little bit of everything, and that’s what makes it fun. From dragons and cat burglars to family pressures, ancient enemies and professional rivals, the overarching force is a fierce and passionate love for books. If you’re like me and those words make your heart beat a little bit faster, then check this one out and prepare to wish you could join Irene as an agent of the Library.
Hannah Ens is the communication specialist for the K-State Student Union.