Some of you recall the incredible awesomeness of Jim C. Hines, who attempted to re-create poses from science fiction, fantasy, and romance covers. In doing so he taught us all a little something about gender politics and the limits of human anatomy and permanently won the adoration of the Internet. Jim has a relatively new book out, Libriomancer (it was released in August as an eBook and in hardcover). This book has gotten all kinds of raves from the geek community and it has just enough romance in it to justify my reviewing it here.
Libriomancer has a fantastic concept. Some people, such as Isaac, our hero, are magically gifted. They have the ability to retrieve any object from a book. With training they become libriomancers. They reach into a book, seize the desired object, and pull it out. Here's some of the rules:
The object must fit through the book. It's as though the cover of the book is a door to another world – if something fits through the door, you can have it. You may, if armed with a suitable Doctor Who novelization, obtain a sonic screwdriver, but not a TARDIS.
Having the object does not mean you automatically know how to use it.
A group called The Proctors oversees libriomancers and attempts to stop any who abuse their powers. They are also able to put locks on religious books and any objects that are powerful enough to destroy the world. You can eat all the lembas you want, but the One Ring is off limits.
The longer you keep an object, the more side effects there are for the user and for the world as a whole. Usually objects are for very short-term use and then returned to their book.
- Books wear out after too many uses.
Usually nothing alive can be transported but there are exceptions.
- It's implied that this only works with printed books, not with eBooks, and there are some interesting rules regarding self-publishing. Apparently there will be more about eBooks in the sequel.
The reason I'm devoting so much time to the rules is that they are the real draw of the book. The characters are fine, and plot moves briskly along, but really the joy of the book is the concept. When Isaac goes into a dangerous situation, instead of strapping on knives and guns he puts on a coat with lots of big pockets and fills them with carefully chosen books. I could go on for pages about the different kinds of vampires and the magical pet spider and all the other crazy components of this world. The details are funny and carefully chosen, and because the main character is especially fond of science fiction and fantasy it's a geek's dream come true. Special points for the fact that Isaac is a librarian whose research skills come in very handy.
Although this book isn't a romance novel, it does have a romance as one of its major components. Lena, Isaac's friend and sidekick, is a dryad. Remember how I said nothing alive could be transported out of the books? Someone pulled a magic acorn out of a book and tossed it into the woods and now we have Lena. Lena was written to, basically, need a lover. Once she has a lover she becomes that person's ideal. If they are into rock-climbing, so is she. If they like to stay home and drink tea she becomes an avid tea drinker. She can't change this about herself and she can't decide that she'd rather have coffee or be single or date someone else.
When one lover is captured, she asks Isaac to become her lover, knowing that he will not abuse her. He, being a heterosexual male with a respect for smart, tough women, is deeply attracted to Lena, but, not being a sleazy jerk, is horrified at the idea that she basically lacks volition. Seeing how Lena works things out for them and for herself was uneasy but fascinating, and full of surprises so I can't say too much. Basically, the romance thread is very much about how much Lena is, and can be, her own person, and what that means for her partners. I have heard that the next book will be more about Lena and I think it's really that book that will determine the success of the romance. I don't want to scare you off with the squick factor as her whole story is about trying to become empowered within the limits of her biology. It's an interesting concept and I'm eager to see if Hines can really make it work in the long run.
At first I didn't feel like the writing was quite smooth enough to earn the book an A, but as I'm writing this review I'm realizing how much the book affected me. I can't stop thinking about what kinds of things I'd like to pull out of books – I am hoping for lots of comments on this one! Think expansively – the book doesn't have to be science fiction or fantasy. What would you use, and when, and why? Additionally, I find that I keep thinking about Lena. I'm impatient for the sequel – will her story be awesome or squicky? The signs point to awesome, but Hines has not set himself an easy task here. As eager for the sequel as I am, this book ended on a nice note of completion so you won't be dangling off a cliff for a year.
Bonus review stuff because I'm such a nerd:
By pure coincidence I read a string of four very geeky and very Meta books (including Libriomancer) within about a month. Just for the heck of it, here's the world's shortest capsule review of the other three:
1. Team Human – I gave Team Human a full review in October. Loved it.
2. Ready Player One – This book took on online gaming, video gaming, and pop culture from the 1980's. This was the most complex and ambitious book of the ones listed here. It has a sweet romance in it although the romance is not the focus of the book, and even though it's about a dystopian future in which people do awful things, the overall view of human nature is one of camaraderie and acceptance.
3. Redshirts: I thought Redshirts was fantastic in every way, but in the interests of full disclosure my husband, who is all about plot, thought it fell apart after a while. Quite obviously this book has a lot to do with Star Trek, but I will not divulge the details even if you threaten me with a Ceti eel, because I want you to read it spoiler-free. No major romance content except in one of the codas, but it's an absolute delight if you are into science fiction at all. I think this one is my favorite of the Meta binge. It even has a theme song. Try getting that out of your head.