the Little Red Reviewer

Libriomancer, by Jim C. Hines

Posted on: July 16, 2012

Libriomancer (Magic Ex Libris, book 1), by Jim C. Hines

published – August 2012

where I got it: received review copy from the author









Libriomancer is a book for people who love stories, who love characters, who want to visit the places they read about and meet the characters they’ve only been able to visit on paper. Seriously. If the magic of a story has ever leapt off the page and seduced you into knowing that dragons and wizards and galactic empires and zombies exist, this is the book for you. If you adore the physical object known as book, this is the story for you.

Exiled to a tiny municipal library in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, ex-libriomancer Isaac Vainio should be able to stay out of trouble, right?  He’s been set up in an easy job,  been forbidden from doing magic, and is attempting to live a normal life with only his fire-spider Smudge by his side.  Isaac yearns to dive into books again, and pull out something magical, but knows he shouldn’t. Isaac’s exile was for his own safety, because he couldn’t control his magic,  but when vampires attack him in his library, it’s time to find out what the hell is going on.

Thus starts Jim Hines’ newest series, Magic Ex Libris.  Isaac strikes me as a Harry Dresden type character, someone trained in a specific type of magic,  but also responsible for making sure regular people are never aware that anything unusual is going on. He’s been educated and burned, and doesn’t want any more people to get hurt through his own carelessness.

Someone has been attacking Libriomancers, the vampires seem to have lost their minds,  and the creator of Libriomancy himself, Johannes Gutenberg, has gone missing, along with his mechanical bodyguards. Isaac teams up with the motorcycle riding, bokken wielding dryad, Lena, to get to the bottom of the mystery, before it’s too late.

And with that taste of a plot summary, how about a tangent?

When a fictional character comes to life, how much of their personality is controlled by the author’s imagination? How far can that character stray from the scenes that were written for them?  Chew on that for a little while, because I’m going to come back to it.

So many urban fantasies take place in big cities. New York City. Chicago. Los Angeles. Houston. London. So why shouldn’t the rural midwest have its own adventure? Why shouldn’t a Michigander author put his story in his own backyard, in Michigan? When I wasn’t cackling (not laughing, but full on cackling) out loud as Isaac pulls all sorts of famous swords and ray guns and thermal detonators out of books, I was grinning ear to ear at the real Michigan bookish locations that Isaac and Lena visit.  All the characters are made up, of course, but the locations? Most of them are real. The MSU library, one of the largest public university libraries in the country. That famous Detroit bookstore with the hand drawn maps and the scifi section that sprawls the 3rd floor? been there.  I can only hope that in future novels in the series Hines visits more and more Michigan and midwestern bookish hot spots.  Not a midwesterner? Don’t worry, you’ll still have one hell of a ride.

Beyond all that joyous bookishness that had me smiling so much, Hines peppers the narrative with hints that we are only seeing the surface of this magical world.  Certain books have magical locks to keep people from pulling anything out of them (Can’t have everyone using Frodo’s ring, now can we?), historical doorkeeper sentinels keep other secrets safe. Hines feeds us magical information one delicious morsel at a time, keeping the reader highly interested in where everything is going.

Back to my tangent for a moment. Isaac’s firespider, Smudge, is a fictional, magical creature. Smudge only exists because some author wrote him once upon a time, and through the mass production of books, enough people read about Smudge and believed in his existence that he can now be pulled out of a book. Smudge, by definition of his creator, is fiercely loyal to his owner. He’s quite literally, the best sidekick ever, because that’s how he was written, how he was originally programmed. But Smudge is just a critter, just a sidekick. Lena the dryad was written by someone too. She exists solely because someone once wrote her, and enough readers believed in her existence enough for a Libriomancer to pull her out a book.  Problem is, she was originally written to be submissive, to be a sex slave of sorts. She can’t help herself, she wants so desperately to please someone, anyone, the person closest to her. Without that, she’s morose and confused.

So, what’s Isaac to do?  He has got quite the crush on Lena (she’s a gorgeous Dryad, if you haven’t got a crush on her, you’re dead inside!), but if she reciprocates, is it because she truly cares for him, or is because that’s how she’s been written? As a character come to life, how much free will does Lena, or even Smudge, actually have?  As thrilling as the main mystery was, it was that subplot regarding the free will (or lack there-of) of people and creatures created through Libriomancy that was so very compelling for me.  This might look like a run of the mill urban fantasy, but it’s a character driven story that will keep you thinking into the small hours of the night.

Jim Hines is mostly known for humorous fantasy and young adult fantasy. Libriomancer certainly has it’s share of dryly funny dialog and silliness, but I wouldn’t describe it as humor, nor would it qualify as young adult (not by a long shot). This is a new and more serious direction for Hines, one I sincerely hope he continues in.  Although this reviewer could happily do with fewer tarantulas.

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18 Responses to "Libriomancer, by Jim C. Hines"

Well, put. I had the chance to read an ARC of this as well. My review is not live yet, but it did touch on a couple of points yours did. :)


I’m looking forward to reading your review. I think we’ll agree on a lot of things.


Sounds excellent. (Goes off to see if it can be pre-ordered…) Hmm, well yes it can, but it’s hardcover only. I’m not buying HCs right now, so I’ll have to try the library. (goes to check…) Yep. they have it on order. I’m on the list but 9th for 5 copies. I’m looking forward to it.


yes, unfortunately only HC now, but I imagine eventually they’ll be printing a paperback. and Yay for libraries!! Your library is getting 5 copies of this book? that’s pretty sweet, I’ll be lucky if my library gets a whole 1 copy.


Interesting tangent, and it does sound like such a subplot would add a lot to the overall story. Thanks for a great review!


wow, sounds really different and interesting. Will have to see if I can get my library will be smart enough to order this book (I doubt it…so I’ll have to search harder)


argh..that totally was grammatically wrong…but you get my general idea. sorry I had no coffee this morning… :P


This is just my kind of book. I’ve always had a weak spot for books about books or libraries…not looking forward to the tarantulas though. I will definitely be adding this one to my list!


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[…] The Little Red Reviewer’s blog where she gave the book a glowing review (which you can find here). With it back on my radar, I tracked down a copy…which sat in my to-be-read stack for far […]


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[…] three, Unbound, is due in early 2015). Read the first chapter of Libriomancer here, and check out my review if you […]


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