Irene is a Librarian, and her task is to acquire rare books and take them back to the Library. This means travelling to different dimensions. Though having just completed a long mission, Irene is immediately sent out when she returns. She's even saddled with a new apprentice, who hasn't left the library in five years. Irene cannot fathom what is so special about this version of Grimm fairy tales that means she has to be sent into a chaos dimension inhabited by fae, vampires and werewolves to snatch this book. Librarians however do not question, they only do and Irene gathers her courage and takes a leap that will ultimately lead to her meeting the Library's arch nemesis.
There were times when I almost gave up on this book. It began very quickly and then just as quickly ground to what felt like an absolute stand still. A major part of the problem with The Invisible Library, is that it is hopelessly overwritten and tries to desperately to be too many things. I understand that in order to affect the world around her, Irene had to speak in a special kind of language however the explanation of this skill seemed to go on forever. I also quickly became tired of reading about the tattoo on her back. I think that Tolkien relies on Elvish less than Cogman relies on the language as a writers device.
The Invisible Library has a strong steampunk element to it. Cogman story includes dirigibles and things like mechanical centipedes attacking on the streets of London. Cogman takes great care to repeatedly remind the readers exactly how dirty this London is. She talks about the smog hanging in the air, the scarves people strap around their mouths and noses, as well as the effect it has on statues. Yes, London during the industrial revolution with its towering smoke stacks was filthy and extremely polluted. Anyone with the slightest sense of history is well aware of this which led me to wonder why it is that Cogman kept repeating these mundane facts to the reader? It felt like an effort to increase word count rather than to make The Invisible Library a more vivid read.
This novel also felt very piecemeal as though Cogman was simply throwing things against the wall to see what would stick. Irene reads as a self insert as she talks about how much likes detective stories. It feels like Cogman's way of explaining why she has inserted a very Sherlock Holmes like character into The Invisible Library. The concept of Librarians hunting down books and storing them away feels directly lifted from the television show The Librarians; however, Cogman doesn't infuse her story with even half of the humour. Then there are the vampires, fae, and werewolves just thrown in for what feels like shits and giggles, though Cogman explains their presence by claiming they are because of the chaos infused world. This concept should have been a readers paradise but the execution absolutely let it down.
I didn't feel any real attachment to any of the characters. I know that the proper polite manner is necessary to convey time and place but it also made the characters, particularly that of Vale, feel very wooden to me. I simply couldn't relate with them at all and because of that, found I didn't really care what happened to them. Even the big revelation about Vale's true identity didn't have the impact that it should have because of the disconnect. On one hand, I'm supposed to be scared of Vale and his terrible awesomeness yet on the other, he never seemed to really follow through with his power and spent most of time following Irene around.
Irene's main nemesis is Alberich and we are told how powerful he is. Part of his power comes from the fact that so little is known about him. There's this incredible amount of build up about the threat he poses and yet he's easily dispatched by Irene. It felt like a huge let down. I did however like the idea that Alberich is part of a fairy tale and that the truth of his story is scarier than fiction. This should have been explored so more than it was.