Forgotten Book: Libriomancer by Jim Hines (2012)

By Scott A. Cupp

Jim Hines’ Libriomancer is packed with fast-moving fantasy fun.

This is the 203rd in my series of Forgotten Books.

My good friend/book pusher Willie Siros suggested Jim Hines’ Libriomancer to me several years ago. In deference to his wisdom in such matters I bought a paperback copy. It stayed in my “to be read” room. Yes, others have a stack. I have a room full of titles that are in my near-future plans to read. Of course, those thoughts and ideas change frequently as I buy new books and things appear and disappear. So, time passed.

Eventually, I acquired all four volumes in the series. In hardback. I had met the author, Jim Hines at a convention in Houston. He was very nice and I enjoyed talking to him. I had him sign some bookplates to put into my copies because I did not have them with me. I managed to acquire first editions of all but the first. The one I’m reviewing now.

So, I was searching for the right book to read and glanced at this one. Serendipity happened.

With 300 or so pages, I only needed to average 50 per day to complete Libriomancer in time to write this review. As a credit to Hines’ story, I finished a day early.

Isaac Vainio is a librarian in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He is having a quiet day when vampires show up and attack him. Now, most librarians would have some trouble fending off vampires (and I am not talking about you Bill Page, Peggy Hailey, April Aultman Becker, Jeremy Brett or Jess Nevins, all of whom would kick butt). But Isaac is not your ordinary librarian. He was once one of a select group known as the Libriomancers. That means he can literally reach into a book and pull out a weapon.

The power of the Libriomancer comes from the collective belief of readers who want the activities in their favorite books to be real. Isaac had discovered this as a teen when he found his hands slipping into a novel he as enjoying. He was found and trained to be a part of Die Zwelf Portenaere (The Twelve Doorkeepers, or the Porters).

There are limitations to this power, of course. The withdrawn weapon must be able to fit through the physical dimensions of the book, so tanks or flame throwers are generally out of the question. Certain incredibly powerful items, like the One Ring, have been proscribed by the Authorities and are “locked.” Still, Isaac knows how to work with these limitations, and vampires dispatched, soon is at home wondering what is going on.

There, he meets Lena Greenwood, a dryad who is attached to his analyst/libromancer shrink Dr. Nidhi Shah. He learns that Dr. Shah has been kidnapped and the peace with the vampires has been broken. Also, Isaac’s best friend among the libromancers has been murdered. On top of this, Dr. Shah had recommended that he be taken off of field work, essentially confining him to his library with no magic involved.

But there are other problems. The creator of the Porters, Johannes Gutenberg, has disappeared, along with his 12 undefeatable automatons. There are traitors within the Porters. Some of the Porters’ libraries have been attacked, including the one at Michigan State University, which has been leveled. And someone, a very powerful someone, wants Isaac dead. Oh, and the dryad needs to form a relationship with someone or die. And that someone is Isaac, based on his interviews with the good doctor. And Ponce d Leon makes an appearance too.

I’m not going to reveal much more of the plot. But a lot happens in these pages.

Libriomancer was a blast. No one will confuse it for William Faulkner or John Steinbeck. But if you want to read good, fun action and adventure, this one is for you.

Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

Forgotten Book: The Face in the Frost by John Bellairs (1969)

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 168th in my series of Forgotten Books.

Once again I have to apologize for those few regular readers, After Thanksgiving I began a new work project and that consumed my time. Normally over the holiday I would have spent some time reading but we had guests and that didn’t happen. I hope it doesn’t happen again anytime soon, but it will, so hopefully we can all bear through it.

This week’s title is a book I have had for many years and somehow never got around to reading, even though I knew it had a great reputation and that I would enjoy it. The Face in the Frost is by the great YA writer John Bellairs, but this is not a real YA book. This was meant for the adult fantasy market and it deserves the reputation it has maintained for the last 46 years.

It is a story of magic and magicians and friendship and how all these things work together. The two main characters are both magicians with familiar names, Prospero and Roger Bacon. Prospero lives in the South Kingdom while Roger lives in the North Kingdom. The two realms have no other names than that. They each have their quirks.

The two magicians are old friends and see each other rarely. So it is with joy that Prospero greeted his old friend who came telling of a book he had been searching for. The book is in an unknown tongue and has last been owned by a wizard named Melichus who had trained with Prospero and, during that training, the two had become not friends, more like adversaries.

Strange things are happening in the kingdoms and the two wizards find themselves on a quest to find the book before evil really happens. They shrink down and travel on a small ship. They get separated. Prospero finds an evil pseudo-village and nearly dies. The wizards are reunited and find themselves traveling in a smaller version of Cinderella’s coach, made form a squash.

All the above makes this sound formulaic and squeaky. It is not that at all. The writing is so wonderful it practically leaps off the page. I found myself not wanting to finish the book because I was enjoying it so much, but this column was not going to write itself if I didn’t finish. But, let me cite an example from the first chapter:

“Several centuries (or so) ago, in a country whose name doesn’t matter, there was a tall skinny, straggly-bearded old wizard named Prospero, and not the one you are thinking of, either. He lived in a huge, ridiculous, doodad-covered, trash-filled two-story horror of a house that stumbled, staggered, and dribbled right up to the edge of a great shadowy forest filled with elms and oaks and maples. It was a house whose gutter spouts were worked into the shape of whistling sphinxes and screaming bearded faces: a house whose white wooden porch was decorated with carved bears, monkeys, toads. And fat women in togas holding sheaves of grain; a house whose steep gray-slate roof was capped with a glass-enclosed twisty-copper-columned observatory…”

Your mileage may vary but I was hooked from those words on. There are not any cutesy elves or orcs or hobbits or warrior-kings. This is the good stuff, not the derivative stuff that passes for fantasy these days.

Take the time. Enjoy the ride. Treasure the words. Live. You won’t regret it.

I know this is a shorter column, but the time is late and I have a 5 a.m. wake-up staring me down.

Buy some great books for your friends and yourself for Christmas. Spread the words.

Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.