My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I really do enjoy this series, though this one was quite a bit darker than the first two and that's saying something. There will be mild spoilers in this review, just fyi. What is particularly nice about this series is that it's obvious Hines loves books and uses them in creative ways seeing as the protagonist, Isaac Vainio and the group he used to belong to, the Porters, use books to create magic, hence the Libriomancer tag on the series. The other very nice thing is that even though the point of view character is male much of the supporting case is made up of strong females who usually spend their time rescuing Isaac from whatever foolhardy thing he's just done instead of the other way around.
It opens not long after Bi Wei and her order (who had been hunted down by the Porters) have outed magic, especially after she tags in a page to the Game of Thrones series explaining it all. Isaac is not only out of the Porters but Gutenberg himself has locked Isaac's mind so he can't do magic. Isaac is suffering from that loss coupled with the fact that the battle with Bi Wei and the Ghost army decimated his home town and that Jenata, the young girl who has managed to use ebooks to do libriomancy when no other Porter can, has been taken over by an insane sorceress from a thousand years ago, Meridiana.
Meridiana isn't hiding magic either and she is seeking full entry into this world. Isaac, along with Lena, the dryad, and Nidhi, the former Porter psychiatrist, are trying to find Jenata and unlock the memories of Meridiana hidden in Isaac's brain (and if someone could unlock his magic, that would be great too). But remembering is only part of the battle.
Soon enough, Isaac finds himself working with the outlawed ex-Porter sorcerer, Juan Ponce de Leon while running from Gutenberg and his right hand woman, Nicola, a Porter who sings her magic. Running turns into reluctant cooperation which turns into something far more tragic by the end as the Porters fracture and an uneasy alliance with Bi Wei and her people are sought. Then Isaac does something with far reaching and dangerous potential.
There is plenty of action, history and of course, pop culture book references. There were news articles, blog posts, letters etc between each chapter. Some were interesting. Some were less so, mostly there to illustrate people are becoming aware of magic (and Isaac will pay a high price for that awareness). Though it puts me in mind of the Dresden Files series where we keep upping the game to the point of where can we go from here? Isaac makes so many enemies in this his continued survival logically seems nearly impossible.
Speaking of the Dresden Files, this reminds me of that in another way. Or maybe it's just that I'm tired of protagonists belonging to an organization made up of utter dickholes. Whedon's Rupert Giles of the Watchers, Butcher's Harry Dresden of the White Council, and now Isaac of the Porters (and probably what's his face from Rice's Talamasca but it's been too many years for me to remember that clearly), the one lone person (with maybe one ally) who is decent in a group filled with arrogant twits seeking to put down that person and not listen to reason because they know they're right. It's getting a little old.
On the plus side, Lena really comes into her own in this one, becoming even more awesomely bad-ass. She was always a dicey character as Hines well knew as he has Isaac worrying about it. She was created by magic from an old SF book the Nymphs of Neptune and as you might imagine these nymphs, a dryad in Lena's case, were basically sexual fantasy fulfillment. Isaac has done his best to help her grow as a person and not just as something to fulfill his sexual desires (he was not the one to make her for those new to the series) or that of Lena's other lover, Nidhi.
And that was also a nice thing. This book does not shy away from the fact that Lena is bisexual and that the love triangle between Isaac, Lena and Nidhi, resolved itself by becoming polyamorous. It's one of the few times I've seen that happen. I like that it's there. I like that Lena and Nidhi have a lesbian relationship without much ado being made of it (though I suppose if I go through the reviews on GR I'll see some non-reviews bashing the homosexuality in the book). For that matter there is another homosexual relationship in this book that was unexpected, sweet, sort of goofy and sadly tragic. I like that authors in main stream books are no longer shying away from gay characters and that they're not just there as negative stereotypes. it's about time.
That said, I'm a bit leery of book four and in this new world that will emerge from what happened in this book. I'll check it out surely but I'm unsure of it. Also I have to say even Smudge gets into the action in this one. He's okay for a big flaming tarantula.
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