A librarian who can reach into books like portals and pull out magical weapons. A dryad accidentally summoned from a book, who falls love with the first person she sees. A pet spider who erupts into flame when supernatural creatures are nearby.
Libriomancer, a new book by Jim C. Hines, is an adult take on the teenage wish-fulfillment fantasy novel. Being a close follower of i09, I saw Hines in an i09 post trying to strike the same impossible body-twisting poses as the models on the covers of fantasy books.
He posted a collection of the photos here .
I’m not really sure how to critique the photos, though. They are funny, and they are making a parody of the cheesy, sexy cover poses that invariably try to fit tits and ass into the same frame by some magic of spinal manipulation – but is it feminist?
He’s transgressing (in a good way) into female space by posing in what are typically female poses.
The amateurish way the photos are done with teddy bears and captions like “Jim: The Untanned” and “Jim: The Vaguely Ridiculous” obviously is inviting laughter – but more at Jim than at the double-standard that women must be trim and well-dressed while men can get away in society without expending any effort to be attractive. It’s reinforcing the cultural expectation that men cannot be “sexy” the same way that women can. In Libriomancer he has Isaac say, “Someone can do magic or they can be magic, but not both”, which kind of echoes this sentiment. This might be implying that someone can either make beautiful things or be a beautiful thing, but I might just be taking that out of context too much. Anyway, it’s obviously bunk, as there are plenty of people who do both (Amanda Palmer, for example!).
I’m going to leave that unresolved and just go into talking about the book. Isaac Vanio is a libriomancer, meaning he can draw items out of books by relying on the magic generated by collective power of readers’ belief. He was banned from the Porters, an organization of libriomancers, and sent to work in northern Michigan. While there, he is attacked by vampires and the ensuing events influence him to resume his career, fighting supernatural baddies with the magical items he pulls out of books.
Isaac himself is kind of an annoying character, believable if not very likable. He has both tough-guy lines where he’s trying to intimidate somebody and moments of insecurity and even finickyness. Come to think of it, the tough guy parts are probably a bid to cover up the underlying insecurity. It makes sense, but I never felt myself rooting for him unless he was in Very Grave Danger. Probably because he doesn’t have anything that makes him different from other stock fantasy protagonists, except being a little more well-read.
Lena Greenwood becomes Isaac’s ad-hoc partner when she comes to save him from the vampires. Deeply connected to her trees, she’s a bokken-wielding dryad who was unwittingly created by a reader of some book in the Gor series* (which is pretty exploitative of women). Isaac faces an ethical dilemma with her, because he had a crush on her before he knew she was created to fall in love with the first person she sees (Isaac is technically the second person she saw, but she believes the first person she fell in love with is dead). He’s reluctant to accept her love because he wants to respect her will, but since by her nature she isn’t in control of herself, that makes it complicated.
While it’s an interesting question, Isaac never finds a way to solve it. He remains in love with her at the end, and a convenient plot development helps to settle his moral qualms about the issue. QED=???
“Libriomancer” is filled with references to pop culture and literature. It even has a bibliography at the end, in case you want to track down the references (although most of them are pretty well-known). Twilight fans and non-Twilight vampire fans will appreciate the many different types of vampires present in the book. There’s also some references to Starship Troopers, Dune, and Star Wars, but it might not be obscure enough to impress hardcore scifi fans (though they might get a laugh or two).
Overall, I’d say “Libriomancer” is okay. Not the best I’ve ever read, not uproarously funny, but it is fast-paced, well-researched, and a fun escape from reality. If you’re looking to read something not-too-serious with a few good heartracing scenes and some laughs, you could certainly do worse!
Also, I love this quote and had to include it somewhere:
“Normal” she repeated. “Yesterday you fed me cake from Wonderland so we could ride your spider into a magical basement and fight a vampire.”
*Tarnsman of Gor, in case anyone’s curious.