The Libriomancer

Reading challenge book 7 – A book with a love triangle

Libriomancer, by Jim C Hines

Amazon link here

Libriomancer is an urban fantasy book, which is one of my favourite genres. I was originally planning to use this for my ‘book with magic’ category, but in retrospect I decided to allocate it to the love triangle category instead. Libriomancer is not a romance, but it does include a love triangle as one element of the plot, and I thought this would be a harder category to fill for my challenge.

What is a libriomancer?

Libriomancers are people who love books and stories and fully use their imaginations to ‘experience’ a book when they’re reading – sight, smell, touch, everything. This love and sense of make-believe gives them the magical ability to reach into a book and extract objects from that book’s universe; although the ability only applies to the books they really know and love, so therefore is broadly linked to genre. For example Isaac, the protagonist, is a devotee of scifi and fantasy books, and therefore couldn’t just select a random book about zoology and pull out an owl’s feather.

There are limitations to this power. The object a libriomancer pulls from the book must be smaller than the book itself. By reaching into books, a libriomancer effectively creates a portal between the book’s world and our own. If the book is over-used, it ‘chars’, increasing the risk of a weakening of the boundaries between these two worlds. Similarly, if a libriomancer uses their power too much, there is a risk that he will be possessed by elements of the book (i.e. the books may be able to reach back through him).

There are other constraints, which I won’t list out here, which work well in the context of making libriomancy a very useful ability, but not one so powerful that it renders the challenges faced by the characters as trivial.

What kind of job opportunities are there for a libriomancer? 

Libriomancy was discovered/invented by Gutenburg (yes, printing-press Gutenburg), who then founded the society of the Watchers Porters.

(Note – there are some tenuous analogies that can be drawn between Libriomancer and Buffy, which I think are hilarious, so I’m going to run with it. Apologies in advance.)

The Watchers Porters are hierarchical – broadly speaking, there is a central council that determines the overall strategy of the Porters, headed by Gutenberg (he used libriomancy to take the Holy Grail from the Bible, so is remarkably long-lived), and various lower ranks of  watchers Porters, who receive assignments from the Council. In particular, Porters can act as:

  • Librarians (no use of magic but get to index the cool books and determine which are ‘locked’ to libriomancy);
  • Field operatives (think Wesley, the Rogue Vampire Hunter, but with book magic and also effective); and
  • Researchers  (awesome watchers ahoy!)

The objective of the Porters is to preserve the secrecy of magic, protect the world from magical threats (fight the forces of darkness?), and work to expand the Porters’ knowledge of magic’s power and potential.

That may be the universe, but what happens in the book?

The book opens with Isaac, the protagonist, being attacked by vampires. When he manages to escape, he finds out from a Porter contact that some unknown evil party (the First Evil), who appears to have allied with vampires, is killing off all the Watchers Porters. The nature of the attacks suggests that  there is a traitor within the Porters’ ranks.

Isaac is a former field operative who was demoted to librarian due to unauthorised use of magic, and is therefore right on the periphery of the Porters, so cannot be the traitor. He is therefore charged by one of the surviving Porters to find out who is responsible for the killings. He cannot rely on the other Porters and must perform the investigation alone, except for the company of his pet fire-spider, Smudge, and the help of Lena, a bokken-wielding bad-ass dryad.

Where’s the love triangle?

IRL, back in the sixties, John Norman wrote an series of books based in the Gor universe; these are nominally science-fiction but are infamous for his pet fantasy theory portrayal that deep down, all women are second-class citizens and want to be submissive sex-slaves. Yes, they are widely acknowledged as being awful books, and yes, John Norman was probably writing one-handed.

Lena, the dryad in this book, came from a copy-cat rip-off of the Gor series in which nymphs were written to be the ‘perfect partners’ for men. Their nature was such that when they find a partner, their personalities and appearances change to fill their partners’ fantasies. Though Lena lives in our universe, she is constrained by her nature according to her book, which means that she can’t choose not to take a partner and she can’t choose how her personality will change when she does. Her only choice is to choose who she will bond to. Early on in Libriomancer she says, ‘there are a lot of people out there who… well, their fantasies aren’t something I ever intend to become’.

Hence, when Lena’s lover is kidnapped by vampires, she needs to find a new lover before she is drawn to someone else. She seeks out Isaac as she knows him and thinks he’s a good guy, and because she knows that he’s physically attracted to her and is therefore more likely to agree to a relationship with her. Lena’s feelings for her ex-lover are still there, but she accepts her nature and wants to find the best alternative.

For his part, Isaac is very attracted to Lena, but is disturbed by the non-consensual elements of her nature and doesn’t want to take advantage of her. However, Lena is both sexy and smart as well as being a bokken-wielding bad-ass, and throughout the book, his feelings for her develop.

Their relationship is sensitively written, as is the conflict that Isaac feels. Lena doesn’t appear weak or needy; rather she accepts herself and instead of fighting against her situation, she works with it. As I’ve said, Libriomancer isn’t a romance, but the relationship between Isaac and Lena complements the overall plot.


What did you like?

For me, this book was a squeefest: total cat-nip for anyone who loves reading, especially fantasy and sci-fi fans. The core idea of loving books so much that you can do magic really worked for me. There are frequent references to specific books throughout – e.g. Feed by Mira Grant, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and The Odyssey,  and the overall attention to detail was delightful.

For example, right at the start of the book, Isaac meets three vampires and is able to identify them because they sparkle. When I read this, my heart sank and I didn’t This made my heart sink, and so much so that I didn’t pay attention to their name, ‘Sanguinarius Meyerii’. But then the author spells it out:

“I studied the trio more closely. I was certain I had never seen them before. Relatively young, since Meyerii had only begun popping up back in 2005.

I had read pretty much every vampire book ever written in English, German, Spanish and French. In recent years, authors had whittled away many of the more monstrous vampiric traits. More to the point, they had eliminated many weaknesses as well. Going after Meyerii with sunlight, garlic, or stakes to the heart was about as useful as trying to tickle them to death.”

I’m going to say it again: adorable. The way that the author poked fun at the Twilight and the genre in a nerdy way completely hooked me in.

While I loved the universe, for me the plot didn’t quite live up to it, although there weren’t any obvious holes. It somehow it wasn’t the right flavour for me, like chocolate ice cream, which I will eat if it’s given to me and be okay with, but I would never choose to order. But, it wasn’t bad and due to my love of the universe, I expect to read at least one of the three sequels. I’d recommend Libriomancer to anyone who enjoys fantasy or science-fiction.




2 thoughts on “The Libriomancer”

  1. I am enjoying your reviews!

    I really enjoyed libriomancer, for all the reasons you say. I found the secret-gutenberg-ruled society really interesting, and it’s one of the very few books where I was genuinely unsure, “is it better to trust the Gutenberg figure, or not”?

    A couple of things did bother me. I really appreciated what Hines was trying to do by creating a “forced to love someone” figure, and then actually explore what that was like for them. But I felt coming from Isaac’s perspective, it was just too risky that it would come across as the thing it was trying to parody.

    And I really love the idea of pulling magic from books, and the occasions when they explore that are really interesting, like the silver cross. But it seems like too often, they never get to really take advantage of it, as all the most broken artifacts are (naturally) sealed, so 80% of the time it ends up being just “this is how powerful your magic is, don’t ask questions” like any other book. There seems to be a trade-off between how powerful an artifact “naturally” is, how popular the book was, and how much the libriomancer liked it. But there *could* be powerful artifacts which are comparatively safe from misuse, but that never really comes up.


    1. Hi! Sorry for the issues – I had my settings as comment moderating by accident, and forgot that I set up the account with an email account I don’t check so often! Hopefully things will be easier now.

      I agree with your point about other powerful artifacts which aren’t subject to misuse, and agree that the criteria for locking books haven’t been clearly defined. For example, it seems that there would be an argument for the Porters to lock all vampire books. Reaching into one might not apocalyptic purposes, but would prevent future unwitting turnings from people who don’t understand their powers. Even if old-skool vampire books were unlocked, there would presumably be an argument for not allowing sparkly, almost-invulnerable vampires to run around.

      I wonder if that’s something we’ll see in later books – have you read any of the sequels?


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