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Book Review: Libriomancer

February 21, 2014

libriomancerHey, look, it’s not another Hunger Games post!  Instead of talking about teens killing each other for a rich and bloated minority, I thought we’d talk about books and the magic that a special reader can draw out of them.  That’s right, we’re talking about Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines.  After rather too long admiring his cover poses, and blog posts, but not actually reading any of his fiction, I finally picked up one of Jim Hines’s books on an Audible sale and I whipped through it in three days.  That’s fairly quick for me to get through an audiobook unless I’ve got a major car trip, which I didn’t.
scalziI’ve been a fan of Jim Hines the man for a long time.  Let’s talk a little bit about that before I get into the book itself.  Jim does lots of posts that are interesting to me.  He’s probably most well known on the internet as the guy who puts on weird outfits and poses like women on book covers.  Which is true.  He does.  It all started when he wrote a post about how ridiculous most of the cover poses were for women on speculative fiction covers.  To prove his point, he tried to contort himself into some of those positions.  It kind of grew from there.  There’s even a calendar now!
Scalzi NightHe even got John Scalzi involved!  I appreciate that both men obviously put some effort into finding shoes.  And it’s nice that Scalzi took it the extra step and got a wig.  So, why do I love this man who is wiling to humiliate himself (and endanger his joints) in the name of feminism?
Here’s what Jim has to say about the whole thing:

The Takeaway

It’s easy to point and blame the artists, but publishing a book is like making sausage, and there’s an awful lot that goes into the final product. The art director at gives the artist a certain direction. The sales department has ideas about what they need to make it marketable. Bookstore chains have been known to reject books based on covers they didn’t think would sell. Then there are the readers-if they keep buying boob-and-butt books, publishers will keep putting them out. And of course, all of this is happening in a society still struggling with sexism.

There’s a big conversation to be had here, and I believe it’s an important one. I’m both grateful and overwhelmed by the response to this project and the discussion it’s generated.

To be clear, nobody’s saying sexuality is bad, or that poses showing off a model’s body are bad. But wouldn’t it be nice if we could get cover art that

  1. Was true to the book and characters

  2. Didn’t routinely reduce women to sexual objects

  3. Didn’t emphasize women’s sexuality at the expense of strength or agency

lenaThat just rocks.  So, I’ve liked him ever since I found out about that.  But, for some reason, I had a disconnect in my brain between “Hey, I love what this guy is doing!” and “Hey, maybe I should support him with more than page views and a ‘like’ button.”  It’s weird.  I’ll buy a video game I’m not even sure I can play (Assassin’s Creed: Liberation) because it has a female lead and my response to that is “Take my money so you will learn and give me more of this,” but it took me an incredibly long time to think, “oh, this guy who does a thing I like online where he is witty and entertaining also writes long books where he is probably witty and entertaining and buying them is a tangible way of supporting that.”  Yeah, I’m kind of stupid sometimes.
So, I finally picked up Libriomancer, and boy was that rewarding.
The premise of the Magic Ex Libris series is that books, specifically the energy readers put into books, can be harnessed by magicians known as libriomancers.  The more people who read a particular edition of a book, the more power that book has.  Things that are too powerful (Harry Potter, I’m looking at you) have been locked for safety.  There is an organization, founded by Johannes Gutenberg, known as  Die Zwelf Portenære, or the Porters.  Their job is to keep magic and magical creatures hidden from the mundane world.  Everything goes fairly well for centuries.
Isaac Vainio is a semi-retired Porter working in a small-town library in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  He hasn’t touched magic for two years, but when several vampires walk into his library and try to kill him, he dives into the books around him to fight back.  Disrupters from Star Trek, monofiliment swords from cyberpunk novels, light sabers, ray guns, Excalibur itself; all of these are available to a libriomancer with a big enough library.
A dryad named Lena, and a fire spider named Smudge are his unlikely allies as Isaac finds himself unexpectedly back in the field.  Vampires have been attacking Porters, Gutenberg is missing, and Isaac is the only one with the freedom to dive headfirst into the investigation.  Unfortunately, all the signs point to a rouge libriomancer being behind the conflicts.

beautyThere are a few things I adore about this book (and the second, which I’m listening to now).  First, Isaac reads the same kind of books that I do; fantasy and sci-fi.  He references some of my favorites – Feed by Mira Grant, Beauty by Robin McKinley, The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis.  In Codex Born (the second book) he references Tamora Pierce, who is one of my all time favorite authors EVER.  Also, I cosplay.  I actively try to bring images and artifacts from the books I love to life.  How could I not love this idea?  My ideal afterlife is to have a library with access to all the books in the world (Beauty, by the way, has just such a library.  It’s even better than the one in the Disney movie!)  So, the concept is a winner for me to start with.
The other reason I love the book so much is Lena.  Lena is a potentially problematic character.  She’s a dryad, who was pulled out of a book called  Nymphs from Neptune.  The (fictional) book was written during the pulp era where men were men and women were sex objects.  The nymphs psychically imprint on their lovers and become the ideal mate.  Want a curvy blonde who is sassy in public, but a complete sub in the bedroom?  That’s what she’ll be.  Want a domestic goddess?  A sex kitten?  A randy nymph right out of Greek myth?  Do you want Xena the Warrior Princess?  That’s what your nymph lover will become.  Lena was literally designed to become the perfect lover.
So how awesome is it that Hines manages to make her a fully fleshed out character.  She has desires and self awareness.  He talked about her over on Mary Robinette Kowal’s blog.  Isaac is interesting.  He is, in a way, the same character design as lots of other heroes I like; brash, self-sacrificing, and a total smartass.  I like him becauase he’s a well written version of the kind of guy I like to spend some quality reading time with.  But Lena is something special.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 23, 2014 7:27 pm

    I’m looking forward to reading LIBRIOMANCER too. And yes, part of that is that Jim Hines seems like such an awesome person. Also, he’s the only public figure I know who admits to liking STREETS OF FIRE, which is one of my favorite guilty pleasure movies.

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