Genevieve Cogman’s Invisible Library series is a rollicking series of adventures taking in parallel worlds, magical creatures and of course the titular library. If you’re new to the series, here’s everything you need to know.
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What’s cooler than a book? Loads of books, aka a library. And what’s cooler than a library – how about an invisible one, maintained and curated by parallel world/dimension hopping librarians?
That’s essentially the set up for Genevieve Cogman’s fabulous eclectic urban fantasy series – The Invisible Library. Of course, it’s not quite as simple as the books being donated to the Library. Protagonist Irene is a professional librarian spy, ‘liberating’ unique and priceless versions of books by whatever means necessary. And this is absolutely necessary, because the stability of all alternate worlds is at stake. Alternate versions of earth exist on a spectrum from order to chaos, and books are one of their main stabilizing influences. Sometimes the only way of keeping a world safe is to steal/beg/borrow a unique book from that world, and take it to the Library for safekeeping. This powerful link can stop a world from descending further into chaos. Or prevent order from becoming too rigid!
Irene is often in great danger, performing essential ‘book acquisition’ missions. But, she must also manage her enigmatic and insouciant assistant Kai, and a potentially devastating cross-world rivalry between the fae or fairy forces who root for chaos, and their dragon rivals who strive for order . . .
If you need more convincing after ‘trans-dimensional librarian spies’, then read on. Below is a little more information on the Invisible Library universe.
Alternate earths (and their timelines)
The conceit of the series allows Irene (and others, including a few less savoury types) to hop between different fascinating time periods. These range from prohibition Chicago to revolutionary Paris. And needless to say, each book involves treats such as countering nefarious plots, sinister masterminds and dastardly politicking. Each world in this series is balanced somewhere between Chaos and Order. The worlds affected by chaos feature magic – think werewolves, supernatural elements and stories coming to life. And worlds influenced by order feature technology, science and rules.
The main setting in these books is Victorian London, where technology is starting to become a part of everyday life. When chaos begins to reign this technology starts to behave strangely (here’s looking at you, robotic centipede). Creatures of the fae can manifest. That means vampires, werewolves and the like. But, the kicker here is they’re more likely to be attending masked balls, or to be newspaper magnates, than prowling the city’s alleyways.
There’s a thrill to be had in parsing the bizarre rules or inverted power structures of a new alternative world. And of course, plenty of fun to be had following Irene and Kai’s attempts to navigate them too, usually with a little less discretion than their orders recommend.
Dragons vs. fae
While as neutral as possible, The Invisible Library tends to get wrapped up in the larger, cross-world power struggles between the fae, representing chaos, and the dragons, representing order. When the natural order of things in a timeline has gone awry – due to an over-reliance on technology or some deliberate meddling – fae beings, who thrive on disorder and intrigue, can manifest. The dragons are a more secretive lot in general, preferring not to get involved in things unless strictly necessary. But, their mutual machinations, peace treaties and general meddling in the affairs of mortals provide a constant through-intrigue for Irene and Kai to try and resolve.
Both sides are full of charisma too. The dragons are, without spoiling anything, far more erudite than your regular fantasy thugs. And the fae – comprised of a wide range of elfin cads and less glamorous beings – are delightfully evil.
The Library itself
It delights with its strange transport systems, bizarre filing methodologies and its own form of office politics. The Library and its denizens are such a fascinating hub, that it’s always slightly sad to depart it for other worlds. This is a sentiment Irene definitely shares with the reader. Whispers also waft through the halls of a malicious and sinister ex-librarian – the mysterious Alberich – whose shadow grows larger as the series goes on.
Indeed, Irene’s ethical dilemmas are a subtle subtext running through the series. She must consider what responsibility, if any, the Library has to the worlds whose texts it plunders. And should a Librarian indeed remain neutral, retrieving their assigned texts and leaving without a trace – even when worlds are crumbling around them?
It’s the tension of these dilemmas, that make Irene such a great heroine. Irene’s quick-thinking, her willingness to improvise and her awareness of how her own actions might influence her protege Kai are all wonderfully drawn.
Where do I start – and finish?
This is a series that does benefit from being read in the correct order, however each book is a self-contained story and the author takes pains to introduce the world again in each volume. Nevertheless, the politics between the various factions, the relationship between Irene and Kai and the Library’s backstory do form an overall story arc, too.
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