In Praise of Magical Librarians: Genevieve Cogman’s The Lost Plot

Librarians make great heroes, from Barbara “Batgirl” Gordon, to the rebel librarians in Rachel Caine’s Great Library novels, to the Librarians television show—and none may stand equal to the intrepid employees of the Invisible Library in Genevieve Cogman’s delightful same-named fantasy series.

Foremost among Cogman’s librarians is Irene Winters, who shines in the latest Invisible Library novel, The Lost Plot.

If you’ve yet to meet Irene, in the first chapter Cogman kindly supplies a description that catches up new and old readers alike:

“A spy?” Irene said in tones of mild horror. What precisely did Mrs. Walker know? Irene was an agent of the Library, and it was her job and her duty to retrieve works of fiction from alternate worlds. Bringing them back to her interdimensional Library home created links with these places. And thus did the Library help preserve the balance between unfeeling order and uncaring chaos, across a multitude of worlds. It was a noble calling and a lifetime commitment, and it allowed her to use the Library’s special Language to command reality. It also often involved her stealing books and running away. So technically, yes, “spy” wasn’t entirely accurate.

Escaping from the vampires who believe she’s a spy is the least of Irene’s troubles this time around, though it does lead to a good soaking in the rain.

In general, the Invisible Library is tasked with preserving the balance throughout worlds between the dragons (unfeeling order) and the Fae (uncaring chaos). More specifically for Irene, she constantly finds herself bumping up against those who want to shift the balance of power, encountering circumstances that frequently threaten her life. This is great news for readers, allowing for fast-paced stories, full of action. It’s not so fun for Irene. Though she does seem to thrive on chaos…

In The Last Plot, dragon politics require two competing dragons (who  remain mostly in human form) to find a specific book. The winner gets a high government post with their queen and incredible prestige. The loser probably dies (dragons, right?). The Library must remain neutral in such circumstances, but when Irene is clued into the fact that one of the dragons has apparently hired a Librarian to find the book, she must take action.

This plot is further complicated by the fact that her assistant Librarian, Kai, is himself a dragon. And she has probably fallen in love with him. (As one does with dragons who are handsome in human form and also love books.) Kai cannot use his dragon powers to help Irene, lest he likewise tip the balance of dragon politics.

Instead, Irene and Kai transport to an alternate world that roughly resembles 1920s America, where the possibly-renegade Librarian is located. Of course, they soon run into trouble from the crooked police, the mobster who runs New York, his favorite assassin, and the two near omnipotent dragons, all of whom want something from Irene. (But she does get to do some fun shopping in the meantime; I had a great deal of fun wandering 1920s department stores with her.)

The joy of this book (and series) is how Irene handles all of this madness with aplomb. Even when all her plans go awry, she improvises ably on the spot. Yes, it’s bad that dragons, mobsters, and police all seem to want to kill her, but, hey, on the other hand, she’s protecting books, and she is determined to avenge the destruction of a great library that was a casualty of the contest. (Reading her ire at the destruction of so many books is kind of glorious.)

The most prominent subplot is her forbidden attraction to Kai; Librarians generally aren’t allowed to have private lives, she’s in a position of power over her him, and he’s a dragon and getting involved with him would mean endangering the Library’s neutrality. But Kai is a powerful dragon, with all the charisma of a fantastic beast in human form, and he adores Irene for her fearlessness, her intelligence, and her dedication to the Library. It’s probably just as well so is distracted being captured and escaping the various factions, finding the book at the heart of the contest, and becoming embroiled in dragon politics despite her best intentions.

The first three books in the series are The Invisible Library, The Masked City, and The Burning Page. If you don’t mind reading out of order, you can by starting with The Last Plot. But I highly recommend the entire run.

The Lost Plot is available now.

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