This post begins with an overview of the series world-building, followed by reviews of the introductory short story, reviews of the first three novels, and the publisher's blurb for novel 4. I will continue to post new titles and summaries, but I will not be reviewing any future novels in this series for reasons explained in my review of novel 3.
The leader of the libriomancers is Johannes Gutenberg—yes, the one who invented the printing press and who supposedly died in 1468. "Johannes Gutenberg....devoted his life to the study of magic, a pursuit that eventually led him to the development of the printing press and the mass production of books. Gutenberg theorized that this would allow him to tap into the mutual belief of readers, bolstering his power....Hundreds, even thousands of people could now read the exact same book in the exact same form. The first recorded act of libriomancy was when Gutenberg used his mass-produced Bible to create the Holy grail, the cup of life which had kept him alive all these years." (Libriomancer, p. 37) Gutenberg heads up the Die Zwelf Portenære, or the Twelve Doorkeepers. Here, Isaac Vainio, the series protagonist explains that "the Porters had been around for roughly half a millennium. The...organization...now numbered between four and five hundred members worldwide....Every Porter took an oath to preserve the secrecy of magic, protect the world from magical threats, and work to expand our knowledge of magic's power and potential." (Libriomancer, p. 17)
Isaac is a young and powerful libriomancer who was recently removed from his field position with the Porters when he lost his focus and became overwhelmed by magic when he dipped into H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds for power and weaponry during a showdown with some major villains and almost lost himself in a magical overload. As the series opens, Isaac is working a day job at the Copper River Public Library in the Michigan Upper Peninsula. In his off-hours, he is a cataloger for the Porters. That job, he explains, requires him to "flag potentially dangerous books so that they can be locked to prevent someone from using their magic for nefarious purposes or from accidentally causing huge magical problems." (Libriomancer, p. 79)
As part of their oath to protect the world from magical threats, libriomancers track down and punish supernaturals—mostly vampires and shapeshifters—who harm humans. In this world, supernaturals are unknown to the general public. The series mythology surrounding the origins of supernaturals is quite inventive: "Supernatural creatures came about in one of two ways. A handful were natural-born, having evolved alongside Homo sapiens with whatever magical gifts or abilities helped them survive...But the majority of such species were created, thanks in part to the magic of libriomancy. There were only twenty-four known libriomancers in this country, and we knew better than to go sticking our hands into a vampire scene where we might brush against an exposed fang. But there were always others with potential, readers with natural talents who didn't understand what they were doing." (Libriomancer, p. 18) In other words, most vampires and werewolves in this world are created when unsuspecting humans reach into books and either get scraped by a vampire's fang or bitten by a werewolf. After becoming infected, each new supernatural's characteristics depend entirely on the mythology of the infecting book, resulting in many different types of vampires and shifters. For example, the vampire groups include the Sanguinarius Meyerii, who were infected by Stephenie Meyer's TWILIGHT SERIES, and the Stokerus vampires, who date back to Bram Stoker's Dracula. Since each supernatural group has the exact characteristics delineated by the author, we can understand why the Meyerii vamps are nicknamed Sparklers. Isaac blames some famous contemporary writers for the profusion of powerful vampires in recent decades: "I blame Anne Rice. She helped start this whole vampire resurgence back in the late seventies. Then [Tanya] Huff and [Laurell K.] Hamilton and a few others helped it build...And of course, in more recent times, you had Stephenie Meyer." (Libriomancer, p. 17)
|Capt. Reynolds |
in his Firefly coat
This is the story in which Hines introduces us to Isaac and Smudge, and it takes place back when Isaac was still an active agent for the Protectors. Isaac plays essentially the same character as in the series, although his last name here is not Vainio, but Sky. As the story opens, Isaac is at a comic-con on the trail of a new magic user. When he confronts the suspect, Isaac learns to his dismay that the man is an author, which ratchets up the danger several notches because authors who use the magic in their own books are extremely powerful. Never fear, though, because with Isaac and Smudge on the job, the villain doesn't stand a chance.
The story also has a romance plot, which is much weaker than the action plot. I won't go into Lena's life story (too many spoilers), but I will say that the relationship between Isaac and Lena works only when it is connected to the action plot. Their romantic scenes are awkward and unnatural.
The first three-fourths of the book are the best—the investigation of the deaths of the Porters and the discovery of the villain's identity and history. In the final quarter of the book, the situation gets so complex that it sometimes doesn't make a lot of sense. By the time Chapter 21 came along, I was moonstruck—just shaking my head thinking "Oh no, you didn't." All in all, though, I love the inventiveness of the world-building and the geeky intelligence and curiosity of the hero, and I'm looking forward to the next book. The cultural references are fun, as are Smudge's antics. I'm not so taken with Lena. She's an O.K. character, but her relationship scenes with Isaac are so awkwardly scripted that it would be better for everyone (characters and readers alike) if the two are partners rather than lovers in future books. Click HERE to read the first chapter.
NOVEL 2: Codex Born
As we learned in book 1, Lena's central purpose is to be a kind of human sex toy. As Lena puts it, "I was here to fulfill the needs and desires of my lovers." (p. 172) Beyond her sexual talents, Lena has magical powers that allow her to manipulate and blend with wood. She was born from an acorn and needs an oak tree of her own to maintain her strength. At the beginning of each chapter of this book, we get a brief, italicized flashback to Lena's origin and her early history. Although these chronologically arranged scenes are helpful in deepening Lena's character for the reader, they sometimes tend to interrupt the ongoing action.
The action begins when Isaac and his friends are called to a small mining town in the Michigan Upper Peninsula (UP) to investigate the brutal murder of a wendigo. As Isaac and his allies investigate the murder, they learn that the father of a recently deceased libriomancer is the culprit. August Harrison, father of Victor Harrison, learned his son's magical methods for constructing swarms of mechanical insects and animals, each capable of boring into metal, glass, or human bone. He has also figured out how to create his own indestructible wendigo troops by attaching wendigo skins over magically enthralled humans. Harrison hates Gutenberg and the Porters because he blames them for his son's death at the hands of vampires. Harrison has teamed up with a cult of Asian mystics who have their own agenda and their own set of powers that go back centuries.
The plot is extremely complex—sometimes chaotic, but fast-paced and full of action. As Isaac pursues Harrison and learns more about Gutenberg's long-ago actions against his early enemies, he discovers that Gutenberg has been keeping some dangerous secrets from the Porters, secrets that now present a danger to the Porters and to the world in general. Eventually, Isaac defiantly stands up to Gutenberg, with unhappily predictable results.
A secondary story thread involves Isaac's mentoring of a young libriomancer named Jeneta, whose most fascinating characteristic is that she can practice libriomancy with e-books, something Isaac finds impossible to do. In the epilogue, Jeneta is dragged into the aftermath of the action of this book, so we can be sure that in book 3, Isaac will be called upon to rescue her. Also left hanging is the situation with the Devourers, who are the insane, magic-eating spirits of long-dead sorcerers who want to get back into this world. We met them in Libriomancer when they attacked Isaac, and they play a huge part in the plot of this book as well.
For me, this was a weaker book than Libriomancer, which I loved. Although the primary story line is compelling, there are a few plot problems. In the previous book (if I'm remembering correctly), Isaac could pull out objects from books, but they had to be small enough in size to fit through the book-size "portal" he pulls them through. In this book, Isaac is able to bend the reality of his magic so that he can pull out much larger things (mostly weapons). Also, the overwhelming number of books that he uses is dizzying, particularly since he always pauses to explain which book he is using and why. After a certain point, this is more annoying than informative, and it slows the action down to a crawl. This also means that Isaac has access to just about everything in every book ever written—no matter its size. So then, why can't he just pull something out to win the day every time he's in danger? To get past that problem, Hines had to build in situations in which Isaac's magic was nullified temporarily, which adds to the complexity of the plot—but not always in a good way.
Isaac is a likable enough lead character, although he's not as strong as I'd like him to be. Too many times, he finds himself on the verge of upchucking in the face of dangerous and/or gruesome scenes and situations. His relationship with Lena is incredibly strange, and their scenes of passion are painful to read. As I wrote in my review of Libriomancer, both Isaac and the series would be better off if Lena and Isaac's relationship was a platonic partnership rather than a love match.
Regarding the cover art, which—I guess—is supposed to represent Lena: Here is Isaac's description of Lena: "Short and heavyset, with large eyes and dark lips...Her skin was the rich brown of oiled oak. a single black braid hung to the middle of her back." (p. 15) So...Either the artist did not read the book, or the publisher felt that an accurate illustration of Lena wouldn't sell as many books.
Note: In the story, Jeneta spends the summer at Camp Aazhawigiizhigokwe. At first, I figured that Hines made up the name, but a Google search turned up the information that this is the name of an Ojibwa warrior woman who lived in northern Wisconsin in the mid-1800s. Click HERE or HERE for more information. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Codex Born.
The publisher's blurb does a fine job of summarizing the plot, so I'll use my review space to analyze why this terrific libriomancy premise has gone so stale and—to be brutally frank—boring. First, I want to congratulate Hines for coming up with the terrific idea of giving his hero the ability to use the contents of books as weapons and tools. Libriomancy is a fantastic mythology. But having come up with this great idea, Hines appears to have used up all of his creative juices. Most of the problems in this series come from the author's continuing inability to fully develop the lead characters and his failure to write dialogue that flows naturally among those characters. There are also problems with the plotting, particularly in this book.
Problem 1: The characters are so poorly drawn that it is difficult to visualize them, much less sympathize with them. Contributing to this problem is the fact that Hines doesn't provide much access to their inner thoughts and emotions. Even his hero, Isaac, comes across as a one-dimensional stereotype—a socially and emotionally clueless man-boy who rarely shows any hint of self-awareness that might give the reader an insight into his character. Most of Isaac's interior monologues have to do with the action plot, not with any deep thoughts about his personal relationships. Even when Isaac gets a heartbreaking letter from his brother, Hines chooses not to have Isaac react to it at all. The author is also quite skimpy on physical descriptions, so we don't have many clues on which to base our imagination-fueled character images (except for the fact that Lena is heavy-set with thick black hair and skin that can turn into tree bark at will—I kept picturing a female Paul Bunyan). The author's reliance on Isaac's first-person narrative voice exacerbates this problem of character development for all of the supporting characters.
Problem 2: The three-way romantic alliance continues to be weird and very awkward. Poor Lena was created to fulfill the sexual wishes of her lovers (Isaac and Dr. Nidhi Shah, a female psychiatrist). All of the scenes that hint at sex or romance among them are so awkwardly written that they are painful to read. I kept skipping over the dialogue among the three because it rarely was important to the plot and it invariably triggered an "Ewwww" response.
Problem 3: The action plot, which involves finding and figuring out an ancient puzzle poem and then using that knowledge to destroy an ancient evil spirit, is relatively straightforward, but very bumpy in its execution. Situations and characters are dumped into the narrative for no good reason, never to be seen again (like Euphemia and Carl and the swimming pool, not to mention the trip to outer space). I do give Hines credit for reaching back to book one's moon trip (which, at the time, I thought was ridiculous) and giving it a purpose in the climactic closing to this book. But then, after Isaac makes use of his moon-trip magic by stashing a magical object there, it turns out that he could have put the object anywhere because his fellow Porters find it immediately. Consequently, I still think that the moony element is silly. There isn't really much action in this book. The characters mostly hide out in seedy hotel rooms strategizing and peering out the windows waiting to be attacked. Finally, Hines brings the book to a hasty close with a stale showdown scene that has a "seen-it-before" feel to it all the way to the end.
The two most entertaining elements of the book are the words and antics of Juan Ponce de Leon, the wily sorcerer who joins up with Isaac to take down the evil goddess, and the brief vignettes that Hines inserts between the regular chapters showing what's going on out there in the real world now that people know that magic is real. Without Ponce and the worldview chapters, this book would have been unreadable.
I truly wish that this series was as good as its mythology, but that is just not the case. From this point on, I'll update the title list and include the publisher's blurbs for upcoming books, but I won't be reading and reviewing any more books in this series. Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt from Unbound on its Amazon.com page, where you can click on either the cover art or the "Listen" icon.
NOVEL 4: Revisionary