Book Title/Author: Libriomancer (Magic Ex Libris: Book One) by Jim C. Hines
Age/Genre Info: Adult Fantasy
Preferred Reading Environment: a library full of awesome books!
Reading Accessories/Accoutrements: a notebook and pen in case you feel inspired to write your own novel…and a couple fingers of brandy. Remember friends: write drunk, edit sober!
It’s NaNoWriMo!* Time to get writing, Bathtub Book Clubians! In honor of this auspicious annual event, I thought we should talk about a book that will have the literary nerds in all of us jumping for joy: Libriomancer (Magic Ex Libris: Book One) by Jim C. Hines.
I picked this book up on a binge trip to Barnes & Noble. I bought six books that day and three of them kicked off series that I really enjoyed. Libriomancer caught my eye because I was in the land of books and the title means “a person who practices book magic.” It seemed kind of meta and it did not disappoint.
We all know that the written word gains power when its audience expands. Well, in the world of Libriomancer, the written word gains actual magical power with every person who reads it. The advent of publishing made books so powerful that the power could be tapped by those with a specific ability – libriomancy. Libriomancers can access book magic, using the book as a focus to conjure useful fictional items.
As with every type of magic, there are dangers and consequences to using libriomancy. This type of magic is addictive. Libriomancers can become dangerous to themselves and others when they overuse it. When libriomancers conjure items, they literally reach into other worlds. If the world they reach into has a dangerous magical being, that being poses a real threat to the libriomancer. For example, you can become a vampire if you are bitten by a fictional one.
It is for this reason that there is a group of libriomancers, Die Zwelf Portenaere, who are charged with stopping addicted libriomancers from running amok while maintaining mundane existence. This group has created rules, restricted access to the magic in certain books (you wouldn’t want just anybody having access to excalibur), and ensured that new libriomancers are educated and following the rules.
This book (and the ensuing series) follows a nerdy librarian named Isaac Vainio, a libriomancer and member of Die Zwelf Portenaere, after he is attacked at his home library. Isaac and the friends he collects along the way – a fire spider named Smudge, a wood nymph named Lena accidentally created by another libriomancer, and a Die Zwelf Porteneare psychiatrist named Dr. Shah – attempt to track down and stop a murderer.
Isaac serves as the narrator of this novel and his character is developed rapidly – you get to know him really quickly out of plot-based necessity – but he has a strong personality that makes it easy to anticipate his reactions to various scenarios. His backstory flows nicely out of the plot so you don’t feel force-fed any important information. Because Isaac is a libriomancer, the book depends on his love of certain types of books to help you infer information about his character.
My favorite supporting character is his pet fire-spider (basically a tarantula with the powers of the human torch), Smudge, who doesn’t speak but has plenty of personality none-the-less. Isaac spends the most time with Smudge, which is likely why I feel I understand him better than the other characters. The other supporting characters are less quickly introduced. Some have book-lore or mythology behind them to provide additional background and help support character-building. Because the reader sees these characters through Isaac’s eyes, their finer points can be a bit more difficult to determine. It’s a challenge of first-person point-of-view that this book addresses well.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. The plot and characters had me intrigued throughout. But if I’m being perfectly honest, I stayed for the literary references. The book-nerdisms and jokes – making fun of Stephanie Meyer-style vampires as compared to Bram Stoker-style vampires, for example – made in this book hooked me until I had to read the next book in the series. The genre of this book lends itself to more Science Fiction and Fantasy references, but if you’re a book nerd like me (and, let’s be honest, as a member of the Bathtub Book Club you probably are) there’s a lot you will appreciate in this book.
*For those of you who don’t know, NaNoWriMo stands for NAtional NOvel WRIting MOnth. It is an internet-based creative writing project wherein participants attempt to write a 50,000 word manuscript in the month of November. If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo, let us know about your project in the comments – and get back to work!