Libriomancer – Jim C. Hines

About the Book

Isaac Vainio is a Libriomancer, a member of the secret organization founded five centuries ago by Johannes Gutenberg. Libriomancers are gifted with the ability to magically reach into books and draw forth objects. When Isaac is attacked by vampires that leaked from the pages of books into our world, he barely manages to escape. To his horror he discovers that vampires have been attacking other magic-users as well, and Gutenberg has been kidnapped.

With the help of a motorcycle-riding dryad who packs a pair of oak cudgels, Isaac finds himself hunting the unknown dark power that has been manipulating humans and vampires alike. And his search will uncover dangerous secrets about Libriomancy, Gutenberg, and the history of magic.

308 pages (hardcover)
Published on August 7, 2012
Published by DAW
Author’s webpage

I finished this book in about a day, give or take a few hours. I’ve been meaning to read it for a long time, and when I got the second book in the series in the mail recently, I realized it was time. Libriomancer has been on my radar since it was published., Getting book two in the mail was just the push I needed to move this series to the top of Mount TBR.

I’m glad I did. Libriomancer is a hell of a lot of fun, with some innovative ideas that really thrilled me.

The basic plot, at its bare roots, is nothing really incredibly new. There is a secret organization policing magic. No human knows about it, so secrecy is a must. The world is rife with paranormal creatures and people with magic abilities. Abuses happen, people struggle. Nothing really new there. The protagonist, Isaac, and his kind-of-sort-of sidekick (who really holds her own and is absolutely delightful) Lena are rather unsuspecting people with their own shadowed histories thrust into the middle of a situation they don’t understand. There is drama and danger and plenty of suspenseful moments.

All of that is fun, but nothing really new. What is it that pushes this novel so incredibly delightful?

It’s a rare treat to read a book written by an author who knows how to balance the unsurprising qualities of a book with plenty of surprising qualities. No, the plot isn’t really new, but everything else is. The magical underworld, the paranormal creatures, the magic system itself, the personality traits and qualities in the characters are all fantastically real, and absolutely unique.

Libriomancy is something that will probably make bookworms like myself foam at the mouth with glee. Seriously, the ability to reach into a book and pull out some weapon/artifact/person is absolutely amazing. Hines showed me the power of books in a way I’d never really seen before, and it was delightful. Furthermore, Isaac’s love of SciFi, and his use of those books for power, knowledge, and weapons warmed this nerdy bookworm’s heart. This doesn’t just impact weapons, but the world itself. For example, Hines refers to many different strains of vampires, some of which were born from the Sookie Stackhouse books, others from Twilight, some from Anne Rice’s books and so on. Nearly everything paranormal in this world has some literary influence, and it was really powerful for me to read about. Books weren’t nerdy, geeky things anymore. Hines made books power, and I love him for it.

Isaac is a character that I really grew to respect, not the least of which is because he seemed to defy a lot of urban fantasy tropes where the protagonist is super strong despite all the stuff he/she goes through. Isaac struggles, and his struggles become more and more apparent as the book progresses, until the end where he basically has a very tenuous hold on reality. This made him a much more realistic and sympathetic character. Furthermore, things with Lena (who is a perfect kick-ass heroine with her own realistic inner trauma) don’t work out as expected. I respected all of this immensely, the inner angst is balanced by real world emotions and dilemmas that felt well, real. I don’t see that enough in urban fantasy and it made this book, and the characters, easier to care about.

Libriomancer is a really fast read. Things take off and move at lightning speed. There really isn’t ever a dull moment, and Hines does a fantastic job at showing just what the characters are capable of, and all the secret layers of his world without really infodumping, or slowing the plot down with repetition of fundamental points. Secondary characters come and go, but by and large this is a really focused novel on a few main individuals, and some specific points of the world.

Some readers might find that the narrow focus of this novel keeps the world from feeling as vibrant and well realized – broad – as they want it to feel. I, on the other hand, found that Hines specific focus on certain people and points of the world, made the novel feel more tight and streamlined than I really expected it to. This is a short novel, and the author really uses all of his words and developments carefully, streamlining everything to a really focused endpoint without rambling asides or forays into parts of the world that don’t really make an impact on the plot. Everything in this novel matters. While I look forward to further world building and broadening the scope of things, I don’t really feel like that broad feel was essential in this first novel.

As I said above, this novel contains a delicious balance between the expected and the unexpected. The plot is a little predictable, and some readers might bemoan that. However, the magic system and the characters are dynamic and unique, and are sure to enchant you. This is one of those rare books that I didn’t really read expecting to be surprised, and I ended up being surprised about all of the things I’m usually never surprised about. And that surprised me! (Hey, Sarah, why don’t you say “surprise” a few more times?)

Libriomancer was a book that absolutely enchanted me. That’s really all I can say about it. I loved this book, not the least of which is because in my perfect world I’d have Isaac’s power, and my love of reading would make me a force to be reckoned with rather than some nerd anomaly that makes people scratch their heads and look at me funny. Hines gives the power back to bookworms, and my inner geek thrilled. I instantly loved Isaac and Lena, and I love their world and look forward to seeing it expanded on, and added to in future installments of the series.

Bravo, Hines.

4/5 stars

6 Responses

  • Wow, for once you are *behind* me in a series. 🙂

    You are going to read Codex Born soon, right?

  • Great review! I loved the book too!

  • I so want to read this. It’s been on my radar for a while as well, and I haven’t gotten around to getting my hands on a copy and reading it. (I blame money.) But from everything I hear, I suspect it’s probably going to be a book I just tear right through, too, in the same sort of gleeful way you described.

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