The second book in the Invisible Library fantasy series.
Publication year: 2015
Page count: 339 + secrets from the library and the author’s interview
Irene is a junior librarian in the interdimensional Library. Her task is to retrieve books which are considered rare or otherwise special. She usually travels to various alternate realities to get them but currently she’s been stationed (as a Librarian-in-Residence) into a one specific world where she has a cover identity as Irene Winters. She also has an apprentice, the very handsome and proper Kai, and a (mostly) dependable friend Peregrine Vale, an extraordinary private detective. Vale sort of knows about the Library but has never visited there. Irene can also use the Language, which allows her to command inanimate objects and sometimes confuse people, too, for a short period of time.
Irene and Kai are in the middle of retrieving Bram Stoker’s La Sorciere from an auction, right under the nose of a Russian agent. But then, Kai is kidnapped. He’s Irene’s friend as well as responsibility, so she and Vale will do anything to rescue him. But first, they must find out who is behind the kidnapping. Irene suspects the Fae and they are a formidable enemy.
The Masked City was a very enjoyable read for me and I’m diving into the next book, The Burning Page. Irene has grown into her own and she’s more confident of herself and her place in the Library. Apparently, several months have gone by after the previous book, the Invisible Library, so she and Kai have grown closer and become friends.
In this book, Irene and Kai are dragged in the middle of conflict between order and chaos. The Fae represent the chaos and they are very good enemies in a book about books because they see the world as a stage – or a book: “[the Fae] receive their nourishment from their emotional interactions with humans, feeding off us in this way. And they perceive everyone other than themselves, both humans and indeed other Fae, as mere participants – fulfilling background roles – in their own personal stories. And here we have an interesting feedback loop. The more dramatic they can make their personal stories (for example, playing the role of a villain, rogue or hero) the more power a Fae can gain. And the more powerful they are, the more stereotypical this role-playing behavior becomes.” (From the Student Librarian’s Handbook)
On the side of the order are the dragons who can control the weather and earth. They think that they’re the most powerful beings and therefore born to rule. The Library isn’t allied with either because either extreme seems to be bad for the humans who must live on those worlds.
Cogman uses a lot of tropes in this book and plays around with them which was fun. Also, for a lot of the book Irene can’t rely on anyone else but her own skills. The powerful Fae Lord Silver could be an ally but only when it suits him and on his own terms, which Irene might not be able to agree on. The stakes are very high and even if Irene succeeds, it’s quite likely that she’ll have some very nasty enemies afterwards.
There are also tantalizing hints about what sort of trouble Irene and Kai got into during those months after the end of the previous book and they sound very interesting: “the time they’d had to run a con game on a visiting Kazakhstan warlord with a Silk Road travelogue”. Perhaps a short story?
“The perfect Librarian is calm, cool, collected, intelligent, multilingual, a crack shot, a martial artist, an Olympic-level runner (at both the sprint and marathon), a good swimmer, an expert thief, and a genius con artist. They can steal a dozen books from a top-security strongbox in the morning, discuss literature all afternoon, have dinner with the cream of society in the evening, and then stay up until midnight dancing, before stealing some more interesting tomes at three a.m. That’s what a perfect Librarian would do. In practice, most Librarians would rather spend their time reading a good book.”