Codex Born, by Jim C. Hines

March 24, 2014 Book Reviews 1 ★★★★½

Codex Born, by Jim C. HinesCodex Born by Jim C. Hines
Series: Magic Ex Libris #2
Published by Penguin on August 6th 2013
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 400
Format: Hardcover
Source: a friend (borrowed)
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Also in this series: Libriomancer
Also by this author: Libriomancer

Isaac Vainio’s life was almost perfect. He should have known it couldn’t last.

Living and working as a part-time librarian in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Isaac had finally earned the magical research position he dreamed of with Die Zwelf Portenære, better known as the Porters. He was seeing a smart, fun, gorgeous dryad named Lena Greenwood. He had been cleared by Johannes Gutenberg to do libriomancy once again, to reach into books and create whatever he chose from their pages. Best of all, it had been more than two months since anything tried to kill him.

And then Isaac, Lena, and Porter psychiatrist Nidhi Shah are called to the small mining town of Tamarack, Michigan, where a pair of septuagenarian werewolves have discovered the brutally murdered body of a wendigo.

What begins as a simple monster-slaying leads to deeper mysteries and the discovery of an organization thought to have been wiped out more than five centuries ago by Gutenberg himself. Their magic rips through Isaac’s with ease, and their next target is Lena Greenwood.

They know Lena’s history, her strengths and her weaknesses. Born decades ago from the pages of a pulp fantasy novel, she was created to be the ultimate fantasy woman, shaped by the needs and desires of her companions. Her powers are unique, and Gutenberg’s enemies mean to use her to destroy everything he and the Porters have built. But their plan could unleash a far darker power, an army of entropy and chaos, bent on devouring all it touches.

The Upper Peninsula is about to become ground zero in a magical war like nothing the world has seen in more than five hundred years. But the more Isaac learns about Gutenberg and the Porters, the more he questions whether he’s fighting for the right cause.

One way or another, Isaac must find a way to stop a power he doesn’t fully understand. And even if he succeeds, the outcome will forever change him, the Porters, and the whole world.


Codex Born picks up a few months after the end of Libriomancer, and like its predecessor, it’s a marvelous adventure for book-lovers and fantasy-lovers alike. There’s plenty of action, suspense, and intrigue in this novel, but it’s a little slower-paced than Libriomancer, which leaves more room for reflection: on Isaac’s part, on Lena’s part, and on the reader’s part.

This is not a bad thing. I needed a chance to catch my breath after Libriomancer, an opportunity to slow down and absorb more of the implications than I picked up on the first reading. I don’t want to spoil the first book for you if you haven’t read it (but why haven’t you? Go check out my review, and run out and get a copy this instant!) So I’ll just say that Libriomancer left me with a number of questions about what is really going on. I was sure that we didn’t yet know all the truth about Gutenberg, the Porters, and the history of libriomancy, and there were hints — more than hints — about a larger problem to come.

In Codex Born, we do find out more about Gutenberg’s past and the magical threat he’s trying to ward against, but we’re still left with questions — lots of them. There’s more ambiguity in this book, and many more shades of grey. (Not in that sense!) It’s not at all clear who is on the side of the angels and who is a villain or even, at times, who is allied with whom.

Ambiguity and complex relationships are among Jim Hine’s strengths as a writer. He writes all his characters with respect, making it possible to sympathize even with the villains at times. He’s also particularly good at making the reader think and question their assumptions. He’s developed the perfect vehicle for this in the character of Lena Greenwood. A dryad accidentally born into this world via an acorn pulled from an appallingly bad erotic SF/F novel (one which thankfully does not actually exist), Lena’s nature is to adapt to become her lover’s fantasy woman — to change, quite literally, to please someone else. How does a sentient, intelligent person cope with that level of objectification and lack of agency? Lena’s desire to maintain a separate, distinct identity leads her, at the end of Libriomancer, to a unique and not entirely comfortable solution. Hines doesn’t shy away from the ramifications in Codex Born, leading to more than a few thought-provoking moments.

We also learn more about Lena’s life before Libriomancer; her memories serve as the introduction to each chapter. Although the chapters themselves are narrated by Isaac, the inclusion of Lena’s memories (the purpose of which becomes clear at the end of the novel) allows us to know and understand her far better than we could through his narration alone.

None of this complexity and character development takes away from the sheer fun of this series, and there’s no dearth of that in Codex Born. How can you resist a series that begins with the premise that the magic of books isn’t just a term, that certain individuals can pull mundane or magical objects out of a book? Libriomancers, or specifically Porters, go into battle armed with books. Need a lightsaber? Make sure you’re carrying a copy of a Star Wars novel. Anticipating injuries? Don’t forget a copy of Prince Caspian, which gives you access to Lucy’s magic cordial. The possibilities are endless, and endlessly entertaining, especially in Hines’s creative hands. For the reader, the fun is not only in the action and adventure but in the delight of recognizing the many books Hines references during the novel, and the inventive uses to which he puts them.

I plan to re-read both books before Unbound comes out, hopefully sometime in August. I want to make sure that I go into book three with the first two sharp and clear in my mind. I have a feeling it will be just as wild a ride as the first two!

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Magic Ex Libris in order:
Libriomancer (review)
Codex Born (this review)
Unbound (forthcoming, probably Aug. 2014) 

Content warning: some adult situations.





Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • TBR Pile Reading Challenge 2014

One Response to “Codex Born, by Jim C. Hines”

  1. Pamela D

    This series intrigues me, but I hadn’t read any reviews of the series. I’m happy to hear that you enjoy it. I will have to bump it up on the TBR list.