Summary: Isaac Vainio is a Libriomancer, a member of the secret organization founded five centuries ago by Johannes Gutenberg. Libriomancers are gifted with the ability to magically reach into books and draw forth objects. When Isaac is attacked by vampires that leaked from the pages of books into our world, he barely manages to escape. To his horror he discovers that vampires have been attacking other magic-users as well, and Gutenberg has been kidnapped.
With the help of a motorcycle-riding dryad who packs a pair of oak cudgels, Isaac finds himself hunting the unknown dark power that has been manipulating humans and vampires alike. And his search will uncover dangerous secrets about Libriomancy, Gutenberg, and the history of magic…
Thoughts: Imagine all the times you’ve read something in a book and thought, “I wish I had that. I wish that was real.” Imagine being able to magically reach through the book’s pages, into the story itself, and pull out whatever that thing was, so long as it was no larger than the page of the book you were reaching through. This is what a libriomancer can do, and I suspect the very concept will excite long-time bibliophiles, because really, who hasn’t wished for this ability at some point in our lives?
Isaac Vainio is a libriomancer, in forced retirement from field duty and instead working as a librarian and researcher, searching through library books for any technology or other items that can be plucked from books that would be beneficial to the organization of others like him, known as the Porters. It’s not the most exciting life, or so he thinks until he’s attacked by a group of vampires, meets a dryad, and gets thrown headfirst into a conspiracy set to bring down the Porters, those guardians of bookish magic founded hundreds of years ago by Johannes Gutenberg himself.
This is the first book I’ve read by Hines, but I could quickly see why he’s such a popular author. His writing is very accessible, and it’s easy to sink into the story and hard to pull away. Hines has a good knack for stringing readers along on an exciting mystery and for telling a complex story in a way that’s not hard to understand. The mystery he writes is multilayered, too, appearing at first to be one thing but actually being more complicated that I first expected it to be, and for that I was very glad. I do love to sink my teeth into a good mystery, it turns out.
Hines also has a great talent for dropping book-related in-jokes in just the right proportion, to give the reader a grin without making the book feel like it’s getting too bogged down in name dropping or attempts at humour. Poking fun at sparklepires by having a branch of vampires known as Sanguinarius Meyerii was comedy gold, as far as I’m concerned, and that’s the kind of humour you’re in for when you read Libriomancer. Isaac’s viewpoint and observations are witty and amusing enough otherwise to carry the levity for the rest of the story. And there’s an extra layer of fun in playing Spot the Reference, for not everything that gets magically lifted from books is said outright, and not every novel or author mentioned are done in connection to each other. It’s a little added bit of amusement for avid readers, to try to see which pieces of which stories Hines is lifting and combining in his own wonderful way here.
Isaac on his own was an interesting character, but for my part, I was far more interested in Lena. Not to give too many spoilers, Lena is a creature from a book universe, caught up in extraordinary circumstances that allowed her to be born and to grow in this world. Her nature is to be largely a sexual companion to whoever she becomes attached to, her own personality shaping over time to best fit that of her partner. And while that’s a problematic concept, it was quite interesting to see the way she had come to grips with that aspect of herself. She didn’t try to suppress it or deny it, but learned about it, accepted it, and grew comfortable with it, as much as any of us can grow comfortable with our own natures. And she was far more than just some sexual conquest for Isaac, I have to say, because even though she accepted that it was a big part of herself, she was defined by far more than just her relationship to the leading man. She kicks butt in her own right, and I loved reading about her. She’s got an underappreciated strength, I think, the sort that doesn’t show itself by constantly kicking ass and taking names and always doing so with a sarcastic comment on her lips. Honestly, I love characters like Lena, because they feel far more real to me than most characters who strive to fit that “strong female role model” archetype (which I personally find about as narrow as the “housewife” archetype, but that’s a rant for another day).
The Magic Ex Libris series is one that I can easily see myself getting hooked on, not just for the cool concept of taking things from books and the implications thereof, but for the characters, whose stories are just starting to unfold and I want to see more of them. There are clearly more mysteries to be solved, more information to uncover about Gutenberg and about Isaac’s role in things, and I can’t wait to dive into the next book and see what it has in store. Definitely worth checking out if you want a good and light urban fantasy that plays with so many bibliophile dreams in new and exciting ways!