The Burning Page, the third book in Genevieve Cogman’s delightful Invisible Library series, is currently available in both the US and the UK. The first installment, The Invisible Library, is an incredibly fun adventure which introduces Irene, a spy/thief who gathers rare books from alternate worlds for an organization existing outside time and space simply called the Library. As entertaining as I found it, I enjoyed the second novel, The Masked City, even more due to its plot revolving around the power of language and stories and Irene herself. Although I still prefer the previous book since the earlier part of The Burning Page meanders a bit, I still found it well worth reading and was glad it returned to some of the dangling threads hanging after the end of The Invisible Library—and I can’t wait for the release of the next book, The Lost Plot, later this year!
At the end of The Masked City, Irene successfully rescued her assistant Kai, a dragon prince, after he was taken captive by Fae planning to sell him to the highest bidder. Though most considered preventing war between the Fae and the dragons to be an admirable feat, the Library refused to overlook the fact that she shirked her duties as Librarian-in-Residence in order to save her charge and the world(s). Since then, Irene has been put on probation indefinitely, and she and Kai have been given particularly dangerous assignments—such as stealing a rare book from a totalitarian republic.
On this particular mission, Irene and Kai follow the usual method of escape by returning to the nearest library after procuring the book. However, activating the gate to the Library does not work as expected: instead of opening to the Library, the door and its frame burst into flames. Irene is bewildered and concerned that no one warned her about this potential issue, but with the National Guard at their heels, there’s no time to waste so Kai, as a dragon, brings them back to their resident world.
After a quick trip to the Library to drop off the book and send a message about the gate issue to her superior, Irene can’t wait to go home and recover from her arduous adventure; however, this is not to be. Before she reaches her residence, she runs into an old friend who warns of rumors that someone is trying to kill Irene, and this certainly appears to be the case when she returns to her residence to find it teeming with giant, hairy, venomous spiders. On her way to report these new developments to her superior the next morning, Irene sees a message threatening the destruction of the Library and Librarians that can only be from the infamous Alberich himself. Once she arrives at the Library, she learns that the former-Librarian-turned-traitor has indeed demanded its surrender to him—and since the organization refused to comply with his order, Librarians have encountered damaged Library gates, been assaulted, and even been murdered.
The Invisible Library series is tailor-made for bibliophiles, especially those fond of genre fiction, and The Burning Page had much of what I’ve come to appreciate about these books. It’s immensely entertaining, and I continue to love Irene and her third person narrative voice: she’s practical, analytical, and competent, and she handles the absurd situations in which she constantly finds herself with aplomb. This book improved on the last by having more scenes with Irene and Kai working together, but I didn’t think it worked quite as well as the previous novel overall since it wasn’t as thematically focused and the first half was rather disjointed.
Perhaps I was just too impatient to find out what happened with Alberich, but it seemed quite scattered before he entered the picture since it briefly addresses several different characters’ situations. As a result of events in The Masked City, Kai is still traumatized by his captivity and near-brush with enslavement (and I assume the ease with which he, a dragon, was kidnapped is why he seems to have become so overprotective) and Vale is suffering the after-effects of visiting a highly chaotic world. It also reintroduces Zayanna and a couple characters from the Library and includes a scene in which Vale and Irene consider their relationship before the focus turns more toward the threat of Alberich.
Though much of what happens prior to that point is fun to read, it becomes much more compelling once Alberich becomes more prominent. In my opinion, he is the highlight of The Burning Page—or rather, his interactions with Irene are. Alberich has no qualms about murder and is absolutely evil, yet he can sound downright reasonable to the point where Irene can almost forget what he is when discussing his ideology. He believes the Library should use their power to influence other worlds instead of remaining neutral, and he still thinks that Irene, as someone who is not a “good Librarian” but someone who is “good at being a Librarian,” could be a great asset to his cause. Theirs is the type of antagonistic relationship I like: one in which the two have strong differences yet can have fun when facing off and challenging each other, and Alberich can recognize that Irene is uniquely capable, intelligent, and different from most other Librarians.
In this installment, I think it’s especially noticeable that Irene is The Heroine: although even the other characters besides Alberich have seemed to view her as being special in some way in previous books, it seems like there are even more characters who seem fixated on her in some way in this novel. In some books, I’d find this to be over the top, but I think it works here for multiple reasons. First of all, in a book about books it makes sense that the main protagonist is clearly central. Second, and most important, I can understand why the other characters would gravitate toward Irene: she’s a practical, analytical quick thinker who is extraordinarily difficult to unnerve, and I like her quite a bit myself. Third, despite having many wonderful qualities, she’s not perfect. Irene has doubts and fears even while showing a brave face to the world, and though she does a lot right, she also makes a rather major error in judgment in The Burning Page. Fourth, though skilled, she doesn’t solve every problem by herself.
That last point is a feature of The Burning Page that I quite liked: reading about Kai and Irene working together as a team. Both their missions involve going to orderly worlds that resist changes to reality made through the Language, and though Irene does still use it, sometimes she relies on Kai’s dragon senses to figure out how to best use it in their specific situation and environment (and his dragon abilities do save the day on more than one occasion!).
Though I did prefer the previous volume, The Burning Page is an engaging novel with some memorable events, especially toward the end. It also plants some rather intriguing seeds for later books when Alberich gives Irene cause to question an aspect of her background that she’s always taken for granted. I’m excited to learn more and follow Irene’s next adventure in The Lost Plot this winter!
My Rating: 8/10
Where I got my reading copy: I purchased it.
Other Reviews of The Burning Page:
- The BiblioSanctum (Audiobook Review)
- Dear Author
- A Fantastical Librarian
- SFF World
- The Speculative Herald
Reviews of Previous Books in the Invisible Library Series: