In Libriomancer, author Jim C. Hines makes a very literal, and completely fantastic, interpretation of the magic of reading. Plus, the hero is a librarian. A librarian! To quote Syndrome from the movie The Incredibles, “Oh, MAN! I’m still geeking out about it!”
Isaac is a libriomancer – a magician with the power to pull objects out of books and use them. There are rules – you aren’t supposed to pull living creatures from books and you have to return things, and using this magic too much can lead to madness when book characters start to posses you. Isaac was retired from the field a few years ago – he has trouble controlling his libriomancy and his magical connection to books is so strong it blurs the lines between fiction and reality. So, he is relegated to cataloging books in a library in the U.P. – with his pet fire-spider, Smudge, whom Isaac retrieved from a book and then realized he couldn’t return without setting the book on fire.
The originator of libriomancy? Johannes Gutenberg, of course. The magic of reading spread to the masses, after all, through his invention of moveable type and the ability to print numerous copies of the same books. A mysterious group called the Porters regulates the discipline, recognizing and training those with libriomancer abilities, enforcing rules and, at times, “locking” books to prevent magical access (like LOTR, because, you know, that “one ring to rule them all” business).
Isaac is pulled back into the field of libriomancy when Gutenberg goes missing and is feared possessed (by, possibly, Professor Moriarity, Hannibal Lechter, Ernst Blofeld and Norman Bates. Yeah.) and commanding an army of vampires, set on destroying the Porters. He partners with dryad Lena Greenwood to follow a trail of destruction (the Michigan State University Library is destroyed, among other locations) and other clues to prevent the end of the Porters and threats to libriomancy everywhere.
Hines does a great job of setting up the idea of libriomancy and its rules. A few of the ideas I liked best – the power of a book increases with the number of people who read it, enough that some characters come to life. So that big push for paranormal romance and thrillers? Well, guess what – there are over 45 different vampires that Isaac gets to deal with, including one type called Meyerii. Ha. Also, just because you can pull an object – like a magic wand – from a book doesn’t mean you’ll be able to use it. And when Isaac is gearing up for battle, he pulls a Doctor Who coat out of a book and then fills the pockets with more books – Alice in Wonderland (shrinking potion), The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Lucy’s healing potion), etc.
Pulling objects from books and using them. I mean, how cool is that? It is very, very cool. I absolutely love how Hines at times just assumes his readers are book nerds like him. If you don’t recognize his description of a light saber (and the scene where Isaac is slicing off an arm and both legs of a vampire), or know the literary origin of a thermal detonator, well, Hines isn’t going to tell you. And neither am I. Because you should know, damn it.
He even lists the books Isaac uses – real and imagined – in the back of the book.
I have two complaints, though, and one is somewhat important. Hines writing style in this work is very choppy, and I don’t know why. I’ve read two of his other novels (from his “Princess” series – reimagined tales of Cinderella, Snow White, The Little Mermaid and others, where he goes back to the darker origins of the stories and creates some very kick-ass princesses – very good stuff) and the writing style in Libriomancer doesn’t match up. almost as if he wasn’t sure where he was going with the story, or maybe he was rushed. The story is so strong, though, it almost makes up for it, and hopefully book two will be an improvement. The other issue I had was with Lena Greenwood, a dryad pulled by a previous untrained libriomancer from a lurid tale. Lena is unable to change her character much, and she is “written” to be whatever her current lover desires, thus limiting her life choices extremely. This works in the storyline and the parameters of the world Hines has built, but it’s an uncomfortable characterization and the resolution of the relationships at the end (between Lena, Isaac and Lena’s lover) doesn’t quite feel true.
Hines is also lately famous on the Internet for his creative fundraiser for Aicardi Syndrome – he recreates poses from book covers. He started this to show how women are portrayed on sci-fi and fantasy book covers in impossible, sexualized poses (check this out)…and turned it into a fundraising challenge for a good cause (and raised over $15,000). Here is a link to one of the cover poses. They are all hilarious, yet informative, be sure to check back through his blog for even more.
We all need to buy this man’s books. You won’t be sorry! Plus – he lives down the road in Lansing!