Magic. Nerdy book references. Superpowers that require an obsessive knowledge of literature. Did I mention a hero who is also a librarian? These are just some of the reasons I had to pick up the first entry into Jim C. Hines’ Magic Ex Libris series, The Libriomancer. But it was Hines’ smart writing, joyful love of fandoms and ability to generate more twists and turns than even Sherlock could anticipate that kept me coming back for each new installment of the book. It’s also why you don’t have to be a librarian to love this series, just a book nerd who enjoys thrilling adventure.
I first heard about The Libriomancer, the first book in the series, from a list of kick-butt librarians in fiction (http://www.tor.com/blogs/2014/07/a-long-overdue-nod-to-fictions-best-librarians). I’ve zipped through the series since then. It’s an excellent three books (with a fourth reportedly coming in 2016) and they aren’t just for librarians (although, you know we all have read it). Book lovers in general, as well as fantasy lovers and pulp sci-fi/fantasy readers will get a kick out of the adventures and misadventures of Isaac Vainio.
What I love about the series is how Hines didn’t just create this world and its magical mechanics and sit back and let it be. His world, its characters and even the magic he himself created have evolved over the course of the series. From Isaac himself developing his own powers, to his lover Lena evolving to be something greater than she was meant to be, Hines has never rested on the series’ laurels. He has pushed himself to create depth for each character he throws at you, all the while casting a wider and wider net to find just the right quirky fictional item to solve the situation. Some would say that’s copping out. I would say that it takes a lot of work and a lot reading, work that Jim C. Hines clearly accomplished.
Beyond being just a fun romp through magic and some of the world’s greatest books, Hines also hits readers with a lot of ethical questions: Who should have access to information? Is it right to hide your powers, even if it means that people will die? Should you blindly follow orders or act according to your own moral compass? Is free will something that can be learned? Can women kick ass? The story never answers any of those questions (except for yes, women can kick some serious ass!), but that’s the beauty of the series. Books should make you think critically and force you to answer questions for yourself. That is why literacy and libraries are so essential for the success of the humanity.