Review: Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines

Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines
Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines

Jim C. Hines
DAW, 2012

Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines is a book written specifically for fans of science fiction and fantasy. It is a 285 page love letter to speculative fiction fandom. It is a novel about the magic of books; magic both literal and figurative. It is also a fun, action packed novel, that serves up a healthy dose of entertainment alongside a heavy vein of a nostalgia. This also marks the first Hines novel that I’ve read, despite being quite aware of him for sometime now. He is fairly active on his blog and his outspoken nature about the portrayal of women in fantasy (both in word and in photo, check out his Striking a Pose photo project) is admirable. Given the number of times that I’ve come across is pressence on the internet I feel a little ashamed that I haven’t read any of his fiction until now.

Libriomancer is a difficult book to ignore. As I said above it is the type of novel that seems explicitely crafted for me (a feeling other fantasy fans will likely have when they pick it up). The book introduces reader to Isaac Vainio, our titular Libriomancer, a magician who can reach into books and draw out objects. Fallen from grace in the eyes of his superious he has since been relegated to cataloging new fiction in the Libriomancer’s database. A nice sedate job far from the action that saw Isaac flirt very close to disaster. Of course trouble, in the form of two vampires (creatures who are actually born from fiction, made real by their collective pressence throughout numerous books), comes looking for Isaac sending him on a quest to find the missing founder of the Libriomancers Johannes Gutenberg. Yes, that Gutenberg.

While Isaac is fond of science fiction and fantasy for the source of his magic the novel as whole is a more general love letter to books and reading. What is impressive about Libriomancer is how that aspect of the novel never seems to dominate the tone. Rather than examine the relationship between reader and text Libriomancer instead simply revels in it. While the love of books and reading is painted clear as day on every page Hines rarely dips into sentimentality (and even then only to further examine the rules of world he has created or further examine Isacc’s personality) instead he focuses on the simple and pure joy of the world he has created. Indeed, the only overly mushy moment that we are really treated to is Isaac’s statement that “Even before I learned what I was, books were my escape from the world. This place…bookstores, libraries…they were the closest thing I had to a church.” Of course if it isn’t obvious that Isaac is “one of us” Hines provides the following delightful exchange:

“What is it with you and brown coats?” Lena asked.

“There are two reasons I wanted that jacket,” I said as I slipped the new one on. It was a little long, but not horribly so. “Doctor Who—the tenth doctor, specifically—was one of those reasons.”

“And the other?”

“Don’t tell me you haven’t seen Firefly?”

Such an exchange makes it clear to me that Isaac is sort of a stand in for all of us voracious readers out there, the geeks and nerds who always dreamed of or imagined something more. The simple ease with which Hines crafts a link between reader and character is both impressive and so obvious one has to wonder why it really hasn’t been done before.

The beauty of the novel’s libriomancy is succinctly stated by Hines: “Libriomancy was in many ways a lazy man’s magic. There were no wands, no fancy spells, no ancient incantations. No hand-waving or runes. Nothing but the words on the page, the collective belief of the readers, and the libriomancer’s love of the story.” This isn’t some overtly complex science, No allomancy or One Power here, simply the connection between libriomancer, book, and its faceless nameless readers. It’s simple but over the course of the novel Hines adds layers of complexity, seamlessly answering all those questions that arise from such a simple premise. This is an utterly thrilling read that had me grinning throughout. Despite the simple core of Libriomancer’s magic Hines leave it an element of mystery, with hidden aspects that he seems intent on revealing as this series continues. If you are a fan of books, reading, science fiction, and fantasy do yourself a favor and go pick up a copy of Libriomancer now.

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