Friday, August 24, 2012

Review of Libriomancer: Book One of the Magis Ex Libris Series By Jim C. Hines

Isaac Vainio is employed as a librarian, but his work with books has more than a mundane purpose.  Isaac is a libromancer, which means he can pull different items out of books.  Despite his fantastic abilities, Isaac is stuck simply cataloging magical potential in the books he reads due to his ongoing suspension from the magical order Die Zwelf Portenaere.  Things might have continued on this way, had Issac not been attacked by vampires and saved by the dryad Lena.  It seems that the vampires have declared war on all of the porters, and though suspended from his duties, Issac is drawn right into the middle.

With Lena and Smudge (his magical spider) by his side, Isaac must try to discover who is taking over vampire bodies and why -- but even more important -- he must find Gutenberg, the 600+ year old libriomancer, who is the leader of of Die Zwelf Portenaere.  As powerful as Isaac is, he is up against forces he couldn't even have imagined.  He also has to deal with his conflict surrounding Lena, who is a magical creature specifically created to pleasure others.  She has no real will of her own and despite wanting Issac to be her new lover, now that she believes that her former lover Dr. Shah is dead, Issac must struggle with morality of being with her romantically.

Libromancer is one of the most original stories that I have read in a very long time.  It drew me in from the very first page and left me wanting so much more.  Be forewarned that this book review is going to be filled with much fanpoodling.  Libriomancer is a book for anyone with a love of reading because Hines draws on so many stories to craft his tale.  It is for anyone who has ever gotten lost in a book and wondered what it would be like to be a part of the story or interact with items from a story. I was captivated with idea of being able to pull an item like the holy grail out of the bible to prolong life, or the opportunity to eat the cake from Alice in Wonderland to shrink in size. The idea of a child unaware of their magical ability accidentally pulling smurfs out of a book, who then proceed to run amok had me giggling.  Especially fascinating was the revelation that the more people read and enjoy a story, the more the world is imbued with magic.  Thanks to the huge increase in vampire fiction since the release of Interview with the Vampire, the vampire population has multiplied several times. This means that for every new cannon, a new race of vampires is born. The child in me who read by a night light way past my bedtime was absolutely thrilled.

With a White male protagonist, I very much expected this to be another White guy saves the day epic; however, Lena was an equal partner in this adventure and I believe that it could be easily argued that though Isaac may have saved the day, she absolutely saved him.  For all of the focus on magic, it was Lena that grew the most as a character.  From the beginning, Lena is absolutely aware of her nature and the limitations that it brings but she fought against that for the right to choose and I found this to be absolutely empowering.  Yes, she had the ability to kick ass but more importantly she fought for herself as a person and this is a dimension often missing from the the tried and trite heroine of this genre.  Lena did not want to be saved or need to be saved, despite Issac's backward belief and that made me love her all the more.

I  think it would be fair to say that Lena is bisexual.  At first I worried that with her lover erased from the beginning of the story that she would be bisexual in name only, a trope that has become far to common in urban fantasy.  This name only tactic gives us the appearance of inclusion, without any real same sex relationship.  Hines turned this trope on its head by having Lena choose both Issac and her lover Dr. Shah.  I guess that would mean that not only is Lena bisexual, she is polyamourous. Both Issac and Dr. Shah love and desire her but she wants both and though both have moments of anxiety and jealousy over this, they love her enough to work it out. 

In terms of race, Libromancer has a long way to go.  There wasn't any real inclusion to speak of but Hines did a make a point of briefly discussing Ponce de Leon and his acts of colonialism against indigenous peoples.  We are told that Die Zwelf Portenaere is a global organization and this means that it must include people of all races, but Hines didn't really flesh this out to the point where I could say that it was racially inclusive.  Of course, I am not going to say that this is okay, but it's certainly par for the course in this genre.  

Despite it's lack of real racial inclusion, I loved Libriomancer wholeheartedly.  When you find yourself promising repeatedly to go to sleep after reading just one more chapter, you know that you have found something good and rare.  I am absolutely dying to know where Hines is going to go with this series and though Libriomancer finished without a cliffhanger, there are so many different directions in which this story could potentially unfold, I absolutely desperate to know what happens next.  Not only do I highly recommend that you get this book immediately, I suggest you get a few copies for friends.  Libriomancer is a true gift for anyone that really has a love of books.