Read March 2018
Recommended for fans of new-adult steampunk
★ ★ 1/2
Someday, someone is going to enthusiastically mention this series to you, and you are going to find yourself making that scrunched-up-nose-face that means either the dog has gas or someone is cooking asparagus again, and you probably won’t remember why. Actually, let’s call it like it will be; you won’t.
But why? you will be asked. It has a librarian as the Strong Heroine .™ There’s a Great Library that helps connect and stabilize the human worlds. There’s a shapeshifting dragon! A detective! Magic spells!
You know what else there is? The (mercifully) agonizingly slow development of a love triangle, with one side between a teacher and her intern. “If something has happened to Kai, then I wish to investigate. I have a great deal of respect for him.’ And friendly affection, and desire, and irritation for the number of times he’s suggested we go to bed…“
A Strong Heroine™ that defies characterization. Literally, I mean. She’s supposed to be a librarian who uses her resources before heading out on an adventure, except she doesn’t here, because she has to rescue her friend, Kai. But instead she rushes off with absolutely no preparation, with her only gear a knife. This is after we are told Kai is in a high-Chaos environment, which is anathema to the Librarians. She goes in with literally no plan, no idea where Kai is held or how, or how to get him out of that particular world. I get that this adds might add to the perception of suspense, but it really just makes Irene look dumb. Particularly when she needs rescuing later.
How logical is she? When she tries to describe the power the Fae have, well, witness: “She took a deep breath. ‘Dangerous enough to shake worlds,’ she said as calmly as she could. Facts would be more use than losing her temper. ‘That’s an extremely good way of putting it. Although I have never encountered any of the truly powerful ones myself. That is because they usually inhabit the ends of reality, where chaos is the deepest. There, the Fae take over whole worlds and bind their power to the very fabric of these worlds. In your world we are in the shallow end… I have never encountered any of the great powers of chaos, and I hope I never do.” Explain to me how that provided facts proving how dangerous the Fae are to Vale.
And, once again, a heroine that defies habit and training to rush into saving a friend: “When Irene reached the Bibliotheque, she created an unobserved passage back to the Library out of sheer instinct, far too busy visualizing threats to Kai to worry about being seen.” Yes, that is the epitome of planning and cool-headed logic, isn’t it? Compromising her entire career? The existence of the Library?
What we really have is a writer that prefers dramatic sentences over consistency. Thus in one conversation, we have Irene’s blood draining from her cheeks, two blushes (including one “crawling over her face”), a couple of head bows, loud breathing, a head shake, “something go cold in her stomach,” blinks, “a stab of apprehension” and “reminded of posture lessons from childhood.” I must be in a particularly spare mood, because it feels like all she is doing is describing a conversation six different ways instead of crafting a spare, tense scene.
A good measure of a book’s deliciousness is the amount of time it takes to finish. You stalled around page one hundred or so, setting it down and taking your own dear sweet time picking it up again. Then, when we are finally beyond the prep work and into the rescue, there’s an extended fantasy/altered reality/trudging-through-the-landscape sequence that is likely just supposed to be a metaphor for a tough journey, but which inevitably annoys you. It’s even more annoying when it starts to shake apart. If it’s annoying when Zelazny does it, it isn’t going to go down any better when a YA writer does it.
The end was potentially the most interesting thing about the book. (Since I’m writing this to myself, it’s clearly not a spoiler, unless I forget and want to read it again, so don’t read this). The concept of Irene telling the/a story in the ‘high-Chaos’ world to help determine reality is extremely intriguing. I want to know the end of The Ghost and the Rider tale. The face off between the dragon and Cordelia is bizarre and anti-climactic. The ornate writing will annoy during the adventures, and the development of the relationship issues is almost certain to become irritating.
But I know you, and know that you will likely pick up the third, just to be sure. And just to see what happened for Irene’s punishment (it was a bit of a cliff-hanger there). Just don’t re-read this one, okay?