Libriomancer, by Jim C. Hines (review)

September 22, 2012 Book Reviews 0 ★★★★★

Libriomancer, by Jim C. Hines (review)Libriomancer Series: Magic Ex Libris #1
on August 7th 2012
Pages: 368
Format: Hardcover
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Also in this series: Codex Born

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. . . .

The premise behind Libriomancer is every book-lover’s secret fantasy: that “the magic of books” isn’t just a literary phrase but is quite literally true.  At least, it is if you’re a libriomancer like Isaac Vainio, the main character in Jim Hines’ brilliant new novel.  Libriomancers have the power to reach into the page and pull out anything that will fit through the physical boundaries of the book, from Harry Potter’s wand to Lucy’s healing cordial to Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber.

Such magic always comes at a price, of course — in this case, more than one.  Reaching within a book has its dangers. There is, for example, a substantial population of real-life vampires, a result of untrained or neophyte libriomancers being bitten while reaching into various novels.  Even for a trained practitioner, too-frequent use of libriomancy risks damaging the book or the libriomancer, or both.

Isaac Vainio is one such individual, forbidden to use libriomancy after a near-disastrous overuse of his magic, but still employed as a cataloger by Die Zwelf Portenære.  The Porters, as they are commonly called, are an organization set up by Johannes Gutenberg to police libriomancers and prevent the mundane world from finding out about them.  They also keep a lid on the burgeoning vampire community.

Now, however, Gutenberg has been kidnapped, the vampires are rising, and an unknown player is murdering libriomancers.  Isaac may be the last line of defense — if he can stay alive long enough to figure out who is behind the chaos and stop them.  Aided by Lena Greenwood, a bokken-wielding wood nymph born of an acorn taken from an erotic fantasy, and by his fire-spider Smudge, Isaac sets out to find and free Johannes Gutenberg, stop the rogue magician, and avert a human-vampire war.

Despite its loving homage to books, especially of the SF and fantasy genres, there is a distinctly cinematic flavor to Libriomancer.  It would make a terrific film: fast-paced, action-packed, and laden with spectacular special effects. Because the book is written by Jim C. Hines, it’s also full of complex, flawed, but likeable characters, moral choices that are anything but easy, and flashes of humor interspersed with moments — or whole chapters — of high suspense.  Hines’ skillful use of descriptive language never overwhelms the action, and his dialog is crisp and often funny.  In short, Libriomancer is a terrific book, and easily makes my list of Top Ten Fantasy Novels for 2012.

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