I first heard about Libriomancer a few years ago while attending a panel that included Jim C. Hines at a convention, and I fell in love with the idea of it. As time passed and the book came closer to completion, every time I heard more about it, I wanted it more. It’s an urban fantasy with comic elements from a writer already known for doing excellent comic fantasy (such as Jig the Goblin series and the Princess series).
Isaac Vainio is a small town librarian in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, aka “the middle of nowhere.” In addition to this, Isaac is a cataloger for Die Zwelf Portenaere, an organization which tries to police the magical community and prevent its detection by the mundane world. However, when the troubles of the magical community result in vampires attacking Isaac at work, it’s time to head south and figure out what’s going on.
Unique magic system
If you read this book for nothing else at all, read it for its completely awesome magic system. Isaac is a libriomancer with the power to pull things out of books. Now, there are some limitations to this, like you can only use a book so many times and whatever you use must be able to fit through the book, but there’s still the fact that at one point Isaac fights with a lightsaber. For those who like well-defined magic systems, Hines has done a great job of fleshing it out while still leaving a lot of room to grow in future books. Everything is well thought out and clearly presented, and tailor-made for bookworms everywhere.
Urban fantasy… with a twist
Two things I associate Hines with are comedy and turning clichés on their heads. For such a young genre, urban fantasy has developed a disturbing number of tropes. First, there are nearly always vampires. There’s usually a love triangle of some sort. There’s lots of frantically running around, there’s a broken-down magical government, and deep ethical choices. Hines has happily completed the check-list while putting his own unique spin on everything (and yes, that includes the love triangle). Isaac is not a character who is likely to become darker as the series goes on—at least, not until the lines between good and bad are frightfully thin. Hines has also populated his world with flavors from other books, like sparkling vampires known as Meyerii. This is a highly referential work, and only avoids being an outright parody of the entire genre by somehow being utterly original at the same time.
As for comedy, Hines has a distinct taste for the absurd. For instance, the idea of a Yooper (someone from the upper peninsula of Michigan) vampire who’s an avid deer hunter is just… bizarre. Every once in a while, Hines likes to hit you with something from left field, but he always times it so as not to break the pacing of the book. When things are dire, he’s not going to try to make you laugh, he’s going to keep you invested in the plot.
A whirlwind tour
Hines, like me, is from the state of Michigan, and he literally takes you all over the state in this book. All told, in the course of a week, Isaac drives over 1,000 miles. I’ll be honest: one of the best things about this book, to me, was reading a story set in places I know. I loved all the little things about life in Michigan that poke out here and there, like the sheer terror driving across the Mackinaw Bridge can be. Most urban fantasy is centered in smaller, more densely populated urban areas. I loved the juxtaposition of starting out in very rural Michigan and traveling through the center sections of Detroit after stopping in a college town. I can’t say that any other book I know does that, and it added an incredible layer of depth to the story for me. And luckily for those of you who aren’t from Michigan, Hines did not write dialogue in the Yooper dialect.
Why you should read this book
If you love urban fantasy, or just love anything to do with books, science fiction, fantasy, or any combination thereof, you will find lots of things to like here. There’s some tongue in cheek, knowing references to a whole list of things, a great story and good story telling. The only thing I don’t like is that now I have to wait for the next one!
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