Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines

Libriomancer is the first book in the Magic Ex Libris series by Jim C. Hines. It is a 308 page fantasy novel published in August 2012 by DAW. I’ve never read anything by Hines before, but this was a pleasant first novel experience.

Libriomancer coverBefore I get into characters, I wanted to describe libriomancy for anyone who hasn’t read the book. Libriomancy is what it sounds like–book magic. The most known form of libriomancy is the act of pulling objects, any that are small enough to pass through the borders of the pages, out of books and into our world. There are deeper and more interesting forms, but most libriomancers are only aware or capable of that basic ability. Libriomancy was founded by Johaness Gutenberg, and the background of it is fascinating.

The story is set in the UP (Upper Peninsula) of Michigan. It is told through Isaac Vainio’s perspective. Isaac is a sort of forcibly-semi-retired libriomancer that currently catalogues books in a library. His fire spider Smudge is his constant companion who ignites whenever any negative magical beings are around (he’s on his usual place–Isaac’s shoulder–on the cover). The other main character is Isaac’s female friend Lena Greenwood, who is a magical dryad that was plucked out of a book before she was actually alive.

Lena is basically Isaac’s kick-butt partner in crime as he tries to figure out why vampires are suddenly attempting to kill him. The vampires, and the twisted, dark power behind them is threatening magic users everywhere, so Isaac and Lena try to find and eradicate the problem. While they’re doing this, they struggle against the organization of libriomancers (the Porters), who believe Isaac still isn’t ready for field-libriomancy. I realize that plot sounds a little vague, but I don’t want to give too much away, because it was all so much fun to read about. 

In fact, the entire book was fun. Hines pokes fun at other authors and books. For example, one of the vampire breeds–there are many–is called Sanguinarius Meyerii, also known as Sparklers. He does this so well, it caught me off guard, but I loved all the references to other books and series.

Each libriomancer has a specialty with the type of book they prefer. While another libriomancer likes using history books, Isaac prefers sci-fi and fantasy novels, which was incredibly fun for me, as those are also my favorite genres. Writing a book about books can be difficult, but Hines overcomes the challenge and manages to keep his writing fresh and unique while creatively referencing well known sci-fi and fantasy novels–like on the cover, which portrays Isaac pulling out Excalibur.

While the book was a quick read, I had some difficulty with the writing at points. Isaac’s internal thoughts blended with the narrative throughout the whole story to the point that I was never really sure which parts were merely telling the story and which were Isaac’s thoughts. I would have liked to have more independent thoughts from Isaac, or less narrative from his mind. Perhaps that was a side effect of libriomancy, that he thinks in narrative, but even so, I found myself rereading passages to figure out if he thought something, was narrating something, or was speaking to Lena. It all blended together a little too much.

Regardless of narration problems, the characters were complex and fun and the story was action-packed and fast-paced. Libriomancer is a solid fantasy novel with amazing sci-fi and fantasy references, and I intend to continue reading the series. The second book, Magic Ex Libris: Codex Born, is already out. If you’re as much of a sci-fi/fantasy nerd as Jim C. Hines and I, or love books and the thought of a magic system entirely based in words and books, then I definitely recommend Libriomancer.


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Adam
    Dec 02, 2013 @ 19:52:52

    I’m a big fan of all of Jim C. Hines books (I’ve read the 3 books in the Goblin series as well as the 4 books in his Princess series and they’re all quite good) and I look forward to reading the rest of this series as he continues it. I recall reading somewhere that Hines said this series was going to be 4 books, but don’t quote me on that if I’m wrong.

    I also really enjoyed a lot of the references to other Fantasy novels, and it’s pretty cool to see how he uses all of the magic from the various books he reads.

    I don’t remember having any problems with the narrative in the book, but maybe that’s because I’ve gotten used to Hines writing style from reading his other books. Did you read any of his other books before starting this one?


    • hannahrose42
      Dec 04, 2013 @ 00:16:11

      I have never read a Hines book before this one. I heard about this book and then liked his page on Facebook, and got pretty excited about it, so I bought it. The narration wasn’t bad, just jarring some times. I would like to read some of his other stuff to compare and see how his other characters fare as narrators. Which series would you recommend more?


      • Adam
        Dec 04, 2013 @ 23:39:19

        I really enjoy both series, so I don’t think you could go wrong either way. I double checked my blog to see what scores I gave the books and I rated the Goblin series a little higher, but they’re all fun.

        The Goblin series is taking a semi-standard fantasy world and making the main character a goblin who is smarter than the adventurers who come storming into his cave. The Princess series takes familiar fairy tales (think Disney stories) and completely turns them on their heads. They’re both very good, so maybe flip a coin to decide where to start.

        The only other thing that may sway you towards one set of books over the other is that DAW (Hines’ publisher) recently released an omnibus with all 3 of the Goblin books, so you could get all three in one volume.

        On another note, Hines also runs a fairly regular blog on his website, and he usually posts a lot of cool things throughout the course of the week, so if you enjoy his writing I’d suggest checking that out as well.


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