-You have to read it if you like books at all (and I assume you do).
– It’s not a romance, although love is a major part of it.
– Lena is great.
Codex Born is the second book in the Magic Ex Libris series. The first book was Libriomancer, and there are two reasons to read Libriomancer first. For one thing, the rules and history of libriomancy are laid out pretty well in Libriomancer. They are just barely touched upon in Codex Born, because in that book everyone spends all their time running around. Also, I’m a little concerned that if you dive in with Codex Born, you won’t have a chance to care about the characters. Libriomancer is a book that sets stuff up and Codex Born takes all that stuff and runs amok with it. So really, don’t miss the set up, or Codex Born will just be a bunch of random people doing random things, instead of awesome people doing awesome things. There's character development, but it all builds on the character development from Libriomancer, so just start there and you'll be happier.
In Libriomancer, we learned that some people are born with the ability to reach into books and pull out objects that are mentioned in the book. The object has to fit through the book cover. The topic of eBooks was sketchy, but Codex Born starts off with someone explaining about eBooks – you can do libriomancy just fine with an eBook as long as you relate well to eReaders. People who have a strong affinity to paper books exclusively are less likely to be able to do libriomancy with an eReader.
Libriomancer concerned badass nerd librarian Isaac and his friend, Lena, and set up their capabilities and their extremely complicated relationship. It had strong enough romantic elements that I think it would be fair to call it a romance, period, although it had so much other stuff going on that people who say they “don’t like romance” would find themselves loving this book anyway.
Codex Born throws our heroes headlong into action and never lets up, as Lena and Isaac investigate a murder and soon find themselves in a series of pitched battles against a mysterious army. This book has more stuff about Lena, but less romance, in the sense that the romantic relationship is an already established thing. But this book is page after page of amazing moments that make you cheer. All you need to enjoy the Magic Ex Libris series is a good imagination and a serious love of books, and you’ll have a great time.
I want to list some of the great moments, so you’ll know you want to read it, but I can’t bear to spoil them. OK, here’s one from the very beginning that is a small but lovely moment – a teenager makes minnows dance in a school by reading them poetry: They felt what I felt. [Sonia] Sanchez makes me want to move.
What else can I tell you without spoiling stuff…Lena proves beyond doubt that she is a person, not a toy – and she does it amazingly, over and over again. I LOVE HER.
The following phrases are uttered: It was time to slay a dragon and My name is Isaac Vainio. You smashed my library. Prepare to die.
Frankly, I’m a little fuzzy on the plot, but that’s because I kept being distracted by all this crazy moments of awesomeness. There’s a lot of steampunky goodness, and some lovely prose. This comes from Lena:
Humans are so obsessed with true love, the perfect relationship. They imagine that one elusive person who fits their quirks and foibles and desires like a puzzle piece. And, of course, when a potential mate falls short of that perfection, they reject them. They were too old, too silly, too serious, too fat, too thin. They liked the wrong TV shows. They hated chocolate. They voted for the other guy. They didn’t put the toilet seat down.
They invent a million different excuses for rejection, a million ways to find others unattractive. Their skill at seeing ugliness in others is matched only by their ability to see it in the mirror, to punish themselves for every imagined flaw. No matter who I’ve become, I’ve never understood that facet of humanity.
I remember when Isaac introduced me to Doctor Who. In one episode, the Doctor met a man who said he wasn’t important. The Doctor replied, “I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t important before.”
I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t beautiful. People have simply forgotten how to see.
And now, a word about the cover. Jim C. Hines has achieved some Internet fame by taking a critical look at gender roles of science fiction and fantasy covers, so it seems only fair to examine the cover for Codex Born. First of all, it’s beautiful. Secondly, Lena is wearing a skimpy outfit (midriff baring tank top and cut off shorts), but extra points for the fact that she actually wears this outfit in the book. Third, Lena is described in the book as “short and heavyset, though not obese”. I’m not sure I would define Lena on the book cover as being heavy set (how does one define heavy set?) but she looks like she has actual bones, substantial muscle mass, and even a little fat in the places most women have some (upper arms and belly). She looks athletic, strong, and real, not impossibly toned. She is holding her favorite weapon and my nine year old said she looked, “brave, strong, beautiful, and kind”. So, well done, Jim C. Hines and, of course well done to the illustrator, Gene Mollica. Her leg looks slightly dislocated, but my husband pointed out that it would be natural to have your leg look weird when you are stepping out of a tree.
I know I haven’t done a very good job of explaining what Codex Born is about. Basically, it’s about the magic and the power of reading. It’s about power, and ethics, and knowing and owning yourself. It’s about sonic screwdrivers and pet spiders who burst into flames when they sense danger and vampires and werewolves and robots and the poetry of Emily Dickinson. It’s amazing. The “minus” portion of the grade is because I'm still a little unclear on whether or not the plot made any sense – but frankly, with all this cool stuff and great character development of Lena goig on, I did not care nearly as much as a hard-boiled reviewer should.