Today I Read…Libriomancer

Today I read Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines, the first book in his new Magic Ex Libris series.

Libriomancers know that the pen really is mightier than the sword. They use magic to pull objects from books–any object that they might need, from any book.  Die Zwelf Portenaere, the secret organization of libriomancers begun by Johannes Gutenberg centuries ago, is sworn to defend the world from supernatural threats.

Isaac Vainio, former libriomancer and current civilian, just wants a nice, quiet life, working in the library and cataloguing the books for their magical potential. Then he gets attacked by vampires who claim that he attacked them first, even though he hasn’t used magic in more than two years. Suddenly Isaac finds himself back in action, with an ass-kicking dryad with a magically-induced thing for him, a scaredy-spider who sets things on fire when he gets nervous, and a quest to find Gutenberg and discover who is trying to start a war between the Porters and the magical creatures of the world. Oh, and try not to get fired for destroying the library–are vampires covered by the insurance?

I do enjoy Jim C. Hines’ work–I love his Princess series about what happens to Cinderella after the wedding–and I was excited that his new series was about magic and a librarian. I think everyone at one time has wished that they could reach into their favourite book and bring it to life. I still want to go flying with Falcor the luck-dragon… As usual, Hines crafts a strong adventure plot with fascinating, funny, imperfect characters. I especially love Isaac’s relationship with Lena Greenwood, the dryad. Dryads are created by magic to be whatever their partners want them to be, and Lena finds herself in need of a new partner since he old one was captured by vampires. She deliberately chooses Isaac, but he is uncertain–he is attracted to her, but can she really be attracted to him when her magical nature compels her to be attracted to someone, anyone? Does her consent mean anything when she is forced by magic to consent to *someone*?

And of course as a reader I love Hines’ references. The back of the book contains a bibliography of the real and invented books that he mentions, and I had a quick giggle every time I got a reference. Ann Crispin and Tanya Huff, and good riddance to the Sanguinarius Meyerii, and Isaac is a good nerd boy who loves Firefly and Doctor Who. I wonder if the Porters are recruiting…

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Familiar adrenaline pounded through my limbs as I searched through the newly cataloged books from the cart. I might be forbidden from using magic in ordinary circumstances, but this definitely qualified as extraordinary. I grabbed Ann Crispin’s latest book, Vulcan’s Mirror, an old-school space adventure set in a mirror universe, complete with evil goatees for everyone.

I didn’t have an eidetic memory, but training and natural aptitude had put me pretty darn close. I flipped to chapter eight and skimmed to the scene where a lizardlike assassin was creeping down the corridor of his alien vessel, disruptor pistol in hand.

The author had described the scene in vivid detail: the hard, sharp-cornered metal of the weapon’s grip, the low heat on the assassin’s palm from the power source, the metallic blue sheen of the barrel as he sighted at a red-shirted security guard . . . detail after detail, each one painting the scene in the reader’s mind. Making it real.

Libriomancy was in many ways a lazy man’s magic. There were no wands, no fancy spells, no ancient incantations. No hand-waving or runes. Nothing but the words on the page, the collective belief of the readers, and the libriomancer’s love of the story.

Love was the key to accessing that belief and power. And this series had been one of my favorites growing up.

My fingers traced the words, feeling the roughness of the paper, the curve of the page near the spine. My mouth was dry, and my heart pounded like I was a kid about to kiss a girl for the first time.

I thought back to the days when I had gone hunting with my brother and father. The slow, steady breathing as I lined up the sights of my rifle. Take a deep breath, exhale, and slowly squeeze the trigger.

My fingers slipped through the pages into another universe. I felt the hot, humid air of the ship on my skin. I flexed my hand, watching the movement of fingers that appeared to end at the knuckles.

I reached deeper until I touched the dry, scaly skin of the killer’s arm. There was no true life in that alien flesh. This was merely the manifestation of belief. Real or not, the assassin had a strong grip, and I had to tug and twist to free the weapon from his hand.

The disruptor was uncomfortably hot to the touch. It was large enough that I had to turn it sideways so it wouldn’t catch on the edges of the book. As I withdrew my hand, magic and story became real. I now clutched a heavy blue-steel pistol with a thick grip and a barrel as long as my forearm. I slipped my finger through a trigger guard designed for digits the size of kielbasa and hid the weapon behind my back.

The library door slammed open, the oak frame splintering like balsa. Cold fear splashed over the excitement and wonder of magic, urging fight or flight.

Neither option was likely to work against sparklers.

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Every libriomancer I had ever met had one thing in common: we were daydreamers.

Sure, lots of kids imagined what it would be like to be Superman or Wolverine, or secretly tried to use the force to levitate a toy car, but we obsessed over this stuff. Night after night, I had lain awake pondering whether heat vision could be pinpointed with enough accuracy to kill a mosquito, or whether a lightsaber could be modified to recharge via a regular AC outlet. I fantasized about what I would do if I were ever to develop superpowers. Where would I fly, what global problems would I solve first, where would I go when I needed to get away from it all? (I had eventually decided to build my own private moonbase.)

Some children outgrew such things as they grew up. My daydreams had simply grown more complex. In high school, I couldn’t read a history lesson without wondering how Batman would have foiled the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, or whether a single time traveler with a laser and high-tech armor could have changed the course of the Battle of Chickamauga.

Imagine spending your whole life yearning for that kind of magic, only to discover it was real.

Imagine discovering that magic, like so much else, came with a price. With rules and limits and old men looking over your shoulder. You might as well bring a kid down on Christmas morning, show him a mountain of shiny presents, and then tell him he can only open three or else Santa will beat him up and stuff him into his own stocking.

I learned that I had never truly wanted to be the superhero. Oh, I imagined it, sure. As a kid, I thought about taunting the bullies, then laughing as they injured their fists and feet against my rock-hard muscles. In ninth grade, I constructed one fantasy after another in which my powers allowed me to save Jenny Johnson from various dangers, and how she might express her appreciation once I had flown her to safety . . .

But what I truly wanted, what I dreamed about as an adult, was magic itself. Understanding its rules, its potential . . . I had studied under several researchers with the Porters, but you couldn’t become a full researcher without first serving your time in the field. And you couldn’t work in the field if you lost control of your own magic.

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