Isaac Vainio, once-librarian and now major player on the world stage, helped reveal magic to the world along with certain Porters and allies. The Porters are an organization of magic-users founded by none other than Johannes Gutenburg himself. Libriomancy, discovered by Gutenburg, is magic using books and “libriomancers” are able to pull things out of books, things that real authors have imagined and in which a certain amount of belief exists from readers, which fuels the magic. These items–weapons and magic cloaks and healing elixirs–and even characters, have a profound effect on the real world, with mixed results and sometimes dire consequences. Jim C. Hines has taken this idea and developed it in a most satisfying way. He often references favorite sci-fi and fantasy classics, even some obscure geek favorites, and also simply makes books up when he needs them. These are some of the best, especially when they parody bad speculative fiction.
Jim is my Facebook friend. Not a “real” friend, and not exactly responsive on the “Facey Space,” but I looked him up after I read his first Magic Ex Libris novel LIBRIOMANCER. I loved it, but had some issues with certain of his characters’ relationship choices and exactly who his target audience was supposed to be. I imagined Jim rolling his eyes and finding something better to do than answer me at length. O.K., whatever, I’m busy, too. Then I read book two in the series, CODEX BORN, and went a bit nuts. All the crazy relationships started making sense and the story was amazing! I appreciated Jim’s rare insight into the human condition, the female side of things no less, in a setting of wild imagination and great action . . . and I became a fan. And I told him so with an enthusiastic PM.
(Or sentient flaming spiders. You can find one of those on Isaac’s shoulder or at his hip most of the time. One of my favorite story elements.)
Well, I guess some people just save themselves for their family and real friends and writing and stuff. Understandable, and at the very least I was able to encourage a promising new author. I somehow coaxed Vanessa to include book three, UNBOUND, in EBR’s best-of list for 2015, because it was even better than the two previous. That got the attention of Mr. Hines and his publicist! Finally, validation for moi!
I recently got my hands on book four, REVISIONARY, which sports the best cover art so far. It is so rare to find a female heroine in all of literature with an average body type (kudos, Jim!), and she is depicted nicely by G-Force Design. Is it my imagination, or does Isaac look exactly like a young John Green? Hey, that works for me. He’s a family fave.
In eager anticipation of catching up with events from UNBOUND, I saved this for a vacation weekend to savor it, but was somewhat disappointed right off the bat. It’s not terrible, not even bad, but not up to the quality of the first three. The good news is that if this is the middle-series slump, that means there will be at least three more and I will devour them all . . . because there is still so much good here. The story advances fairly well and the characters interact satisfyingly and reasonably, but it’s just . . . not as good. (I know this is meant to be the last in the series, but a girl can hope. I predict a gap of a year or three, with interesting offerings from Jim C., and at least one more full length novel in this series.)
The main issue I had with REVISIONARY is evident on the first two pages. The story had really gone IE (imagination explosion) in UNBOUND and I wondered as I finished it how Hines was going to deal with the enormity of it all. The answer was quite true-to-life, because what happens when any organization gets too big? Bureaucracy, paperwork, meetings, tedium. While that’s realistic, it’s not much fun to read. We see more of the most-excellent magic system in action, but not a lot of new things happen to expand on what we already know. The action scenes are well-paced and logical, as always, but not with the fireworks and devastation of the previous books, and there are too few of them.
My thumbnail summation:
Character Development: Very strong. Target Audience: A bit confusing because there are so many great YA and even middle grade elements, but the relationships are adult. Good and complex and believable, but not for kids. Writing Quality: Flowing and unobtrusive and fun and smart. Sidekicks: Two of the best ever. That crazy pyrotechnic tarantula named Smudge and a kick-butt, curvacious Dryad. Tone: Sometimes silly, but never annoying, and ever-hopeful. Magic System: Amazing and creative and dangerous! Great peril/triumph/angst balance throughout the whole series.
If not for the strength of the previous books and the obvious talent of the author, I might have given this one a “mediocre.” Nevertheless, I recommend the entire series. Highly. I’m not recommending it to anyone with certain strong religious sensibilities due to the unusual three-way extramarital relationship and other content issues, though.
Don’t miss the bibliography on the last two pages. It’s another favorite element of mine.
Recommended Age: 15+ for this one, 17+ for the others (So, practically, 17+)
Profanity: Quite a bit, sprinkled throughout
Violence: Mild compared to the bloodbathy climaxes in books two and three
Sex: Not much, some innuendo, especially compared to the rest of the series which contains a fair amount of semi-explicit, though brief, scenes and some explicit innuendo; F /F Dryad /M relationship
In order, Magic Ex Libris are: