Book Review

Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines: A Guest Review by CarrieS


Title: Libriomancer
Author: Jim C. Hines
Publication Info: Daw Books 2012
ISBN: 978-0756407391
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy

Libriomancer - Jim C Hines - a blonde guy in a library with a glowing sword thrust into a book in front of him. 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.

Libriomancer is available from Goodreads | Amazon | BN | Sony | Kobo | iBooks | All Romance.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Patricia says:

    I am reading this book right now. I’m only a few chapters into it, but so far I’m loving it. Seeing this review gave me a little thrill—I had thought this might be a non-romance book many romance readers would like, so it makes me happy to see it well reviewed here.

  2. 2
    Beccah W. says:

    Wow! This sounds amazing. Adding to Amazon cart…Now.

  3. 3
    Sasha says:

    I love this concept- immediate purchase!  This is why I love it when great books are pointed out- even if they are slightly off the strict romance genre.  I have limited time and I don’t find out about them otherwise!

  4. 4
    bjvl says:

    The one that broke open my parochial little romance world was Trouble and Her Friends, with a (looking back on, rather a light) female-female romance amidst a computer hacker storyline. It was a hard read for me, in some ways, back then. But I certainly remember it!

  5. 5
    M_E_S says:

    Oh my god, I absolutely LOVED Redshirts and Ready Player One.  John Scalzi in general is just hysterical.

  6. 6
    staropal says:

    I didn’t even get all the way through the rules, and I know I’m buying this. Thanks Carrie

  7. 7
    Rosa E. says:

    Sounds like a definite buy to me! I’d reach into the Discworld and pull out . . . heck, anything, really. Or use a history book to retrieve copies of the lost books from the Library of Alexandria. Talk about possibilities!

  8. 8
    Darlynne says:

    I haven’t even read your review yet, Carrie, just looked for your grade with some trepidation because I so wanted this book to be good. And it is! Thank you, now I can go back and read the review and rush to get my copy.

  9. 9

    ZOMG Libriomancer. Heartily, heartily second Carrie’s review. :D I love Jim’s work so much!

  10. 10
    MissB2U says:

    I put this one on hold at the library before I even finished reading the review.  I love sci-fi/fantasy and there are so many bad ones to wade through before you get to the ones like this!  Thank you for bringing it to our attention!

  11. 11
    Cathy KJ says:

    This was the first book I bought for my new Kindle, and my geeky little heart enjoyed every second of it.  The writing was good, the worldbuilding was creative, there were all kinds of little shout-outs (but without it getting annoyingly fannish), and it did not give in to stupid genre tropes.  Can’t wait to read more in this series.

  12. 12
    Amanda Carlson says:

    That’s an interesting thought, Rosa E, regarding getting a book from Alexandria. I wonder at the contents of such a retrieved book given the contents of the book from which it’s retrieved. I mean … can you get an actual book from the Library of Alexandria from a novel about Hypatia, or could it only come from a historical treatise on the Library, or could you get it even if the main character only visits the library once? And, in any of those situations, would the retrieved book come out complete or would it be blank because it’s only seen in the background and it’s contents are not described? What if the book to be retrieved is never explicitly mentioned but it was in fact in the Library … is it “there” in the book? I guess all these questions boil down to … what makes a “thing” an actual thing to be retrieved? Very cool concept! :-)

  13. 13
    CarrieS says:

    I think the object has to be specifically mentioned in the text, but it can be a fictional text.  So, If I have a novel, and the novel mentions the book “Beyonde Heavene Bosomes” in the Library of Alexandria, even if it only mentions it briefly, I can get it, and it will be a real, actual book – but not the only real actual book, which is still in the text.  The book would be all filled out, not blank, because it’s the actual object, not just the object as seen by a character in a book.  At least I think that’s how it works…

  14. 14
    hapax says:

    Sorry, I have to disagree with this review.  The geekish shout-outs were fun, but soon got to seem as too much—rather like the story was resorting to flattery in a desperate plea to LOVE ME LOVE ME LOVE ME.  But that’s a minor dispute.

    I simply couldn’t get over the way Hines set up and resolved the “romance” arc.  Yes, I’ll agree that he did the best that could be done with the set-up—but nobody held a gun to his head and made him write that set-up in the first place.  There’s simply no getting around the fact that Lena could not “consent” in any sort of meaningful way, anymore than a drugged date could.

    I could have dealt with that—it’s not like the first time this trope has been used in fantasy fiction—if I didn’t feel like Hines was trying to have his cake and eat it too.  Frankly, it seemed to me that Hines was making Lena’s arc not about *her*, but as a way to characterize his protagonist (I refuse to say “hero”):  “Look what a good guy he is!  He can have a happy sex slave, and he is really squicked out by the idea!  The only reason he’d go along with it is *for HER OWN GOOD*!”

    Which is no improvement upon stories that use the rape / murder of the wife / girlfriend to characterize the protagonist, except the author doesn’t usually expect cookies for being Brave and Daring for the device.

    Different readers will read things differently, YMMV, and all that of course.  But since I have seen nothing but raves for this book (and, to be honest, many from reviewers I absolutely respect and admire) I just wanted to put a dissenting opinion out there.

  15. 15
    hapax says:

    “That’s an interesting thought, Rosa E, regarding getting a book from Alexandria. I wonder at the contents of such a retrieved book given the contents of the book from which it’s retrieved.”

    I will give Hines all due kudos for careful worldbuilding here—this question is actually explicitly addressed in the story. (Not with a book about the Library at Alexandria, but about a book from a fictional, and even more awesome, library.)

    /eensy teensy minor spoiler/

    Basically, something doesn’t even have to be explicitly described to be retrieved.  If (to make up an example) a book describes a restaurant that serves “every dessert ever invented”, a Libriomancer could pull out a slice of his mother’s special pecan pie, even if the author of the original book had never heard of the mother or even pecan pie.

  16. 16
    cbackson says:

    I wanted to love Ready Player One more than I did, but I felt like it was essentially a very interesting world populated by stock characters.  The bad guys verged on the moustache-twirling, and the good guys and gals were always wholeheartedly good.  It was an intricate creation, but in the end, seemed like a Faberge egg made of tissue paper.

    I love John Scalzi the mostest, but I also felt like the characterization was paper-thin in that book.  It didn’t bother me as much in Redshirts, because given the setup, thin characterization made sense, but I actually had trouble keeping the supporting players straight.  Which, not to get overly meta, may have been the point. 

  17. 17
    CarrieS says:

    @hapax:  Re having cake, I thought of that too – sometimes I felt like the protagonist was basically just getting a free pass to have his own sex slave without any guilt.  It really skirted the edge for me.  One thing I liked is that the hero isn’t totally thrilled by the resolution and he didn’t come up with it either – Lena did.  I think the next book will make or break it and I think it could really go either way – a great liberating story or total horrible squick.  Also thanks for clearing up the Library question.  I had a hard time keeping up with all the rules. 

  18. 18
    Flo_over says:

    Yessssssss long plane flight reading incoming!  Oh wait… the tablet is going to the tiny person.  DARN IT.  OK I will steal it from my child to read this!  Yes… yes… mwahahahahaha!

  19. 19
    AlexHano says:

    Huh.  The Lena arc will make me wait on this one.  I LOVE the concept and I suspect it may take over my brain for the next few hours, but the whole sex-slave-for-her-own-good thing needs to be resolved in a good way for me to want to buy in.

    I adored Redshirts, though agree that it’s rather thin (working on believing that’s consistent with the premise).  I blasted through it in a day, which didn’t give me a lot of time to question the characterizations, though I found the codas to be much richer and stayed with me longer than the actual story.

  20. 20
    PamG says:

    I had this book on hold at my library before it’s release date due to a “Big Idea” post on Scalzi’s Whatever and also due to the author’s posts on book covers.  Guy’s got a great sensibility.  I really enjoyed Libriomancer and I look forward to sequels.

  21. 21
    Vasha says:

    I probably want to read this, even though I thought the “Princess” books were just okay. I don’t see a problem with the premise of the Lena plotline, though it sure could be done badly like hapax says. It sounds like the dilemma is more: so yeah, it’s lousy that someone would create (by writing them, in this instance) a sentient being with that sort of constraint on them, but given that they did, what can a decent person do about it, and far more importantly, what can she do about it? It’s not irrelevant to the real world; for one thing people are always talking about making advanced AI with explicit behavioral constraints built into them, like Asimov’s Three Laws. I’m not entirely convinced that this is possible, but if it was, it would be ethically dicey.

  22. 22
    Maria Khan says:

    A cell phone tracker is no more than a software package that will be lawfully installed on your device, a iPhone, Blackberry, Symbian and Windows Phone, and will offer you the tools to track anyone that has a cell phone.

  23. 23
    Hestia says:

    @hapax: I had a lot of trouble with the setup of Lena’s character, too. Hines did deal with the concept, but why start with that premise in the first place? I still see so many books with implicit gender inequities in science fiction and fantasy; I guess I’m just heartily tired of the whole thing. It’s fiction in the two thousand teens; can’t we start with equality of agency, even if it often doesn’t exist in real life?

    Between the urban fantasies where the vampire/werewolf etc. has to lay claim to the protagonist in order to protect her, to the science fiction novels where the women are still playing the ingenue to the older man’s hero (Scalzi’s “Old Man’s War” comes to mind), I could do with less implicit inequality and more dealing with what happens when a woman can be flawed and human but still experienced and independent.

    Even in stories science fiction and fantasy stories, I would still like to see women who can make their own choices. The burden of convincing me that she would choose the hero then falls on how the author chooses to write the hero.

    The thing that drives me crazy is that so many of these stories are either written by women, or by men (in this case Hines and Scalzi) that seem, from their internet presence at least, like they should know better. And yet…

  24. 24

    Immediate purchase!  Note:  I always click thru a link to buy from this site, but the link took me to the hard copy purchase at Amazon.  I wanted the e-copy. 

  25. 25
    Meremployer says:

    @Hapax: I’m only a few chapters in, but from what I have read so far, Lena has the power to choose her lover. Isaac can say yes and take her on, but he would have never been faced with such a proposition had she not chosen him! We just didn’t get to read about how she made that decision.
    When she came to him, she disclosed her whole story, she KNOWS what happens when she attaches herself to someone. I think that she does have consent, especially since she knows herself enough to not want to keep on being the doctors lover.

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