Book Description:

In the latest novel in Genevieve Cogman’s historical fantasy series, the fate of worlds lies in the balance. When a dragon is murdered at a peace conference, time-travelling Librarian spy Irene must solve the case to keep the balance between order, chaos…and the Library.

When Irene returns to London after a relatively straightforward book theft in Germany, Bradamant informs her that there is a top secret dragon-Fae peace conference in progress that the Library is mediating, and that the second-in-command dragon has been stabbed to death. Tasked with solving the case, Vale and Irene immediately go to 1890s Paris to start their investigation.

Once they arrive, they find evidence suggesting that the murder victim might have uncovered proof of treachery by one or more Librarians. But to ensure the peace of the conference, some Librarians are being held as hostages in the dragon and Fae courts. To save the captives, including her parents, Irene must get to the bottom of this murder–but was it a dragon, a Fae, or even a Librarian who committed the crime?

The Mortal Word is the fifth book in Genevieve Cogman’s delightful Invisible Library series, in which the Library that exists outside of space and time maintains balance throughout the multiverse via book hoarding. These novels follow one of the organization’s agents, Irene Winters, whose position involves collecting (i.e., stealing) rare titles and one-of-a-kind editions from various alternate worlds and adding them to the Library’s stockpile (though she does also read many of them, as someone who appreciates a good book). In the course of her work as a spy and thief, Irene uses her quick wits and skill with the Language—which allows Librarians to alter reality to an extent via precise phrasing—to navigate unfamiliar worlds and effectively manage unexpectedly absurd situations.

Irene’s adventures, practical approach, and logical-yet-amusing observations make the Invisible Library series incredibly fun, and I enjoyed the first four books immensely. However, I did feel that The Mortal Word did not play to the series’ strengths as well as the previous novels and is therefore the weakest of the five, despite the readability of the first and final few chapters.

In this installment, Irene is charged with investigating a murder that occurred during a clandestine peace conference. The Library has been secretly mediating an agreement between the orderly dragons and the chaotic Fae that would result in an unprecedented peace between these two opposing powers. But their tenuous truce may be exchanged for all-out war after the leading dragon king’s assistant is killed. As part of a small team with renowned human detective Peregrine Vale, a dragon investigator, and a rakish Fae, Irene must not only find whoever is responsible for the dragon’s death but conduct the search in a way that will not further escalate tensions—or the ensuing conflict could literally shatter the world(s).

Though The Mortal Word sounds exciting with a story revolving around (successful and attempted) dragon assassinations and Fae machinations, it dragged at times. The opening chapter, in which Irene deliberately gets herself imprisoned by a witch hunter in order to swipe a book from his private library, is quite entertaining, and events do become more consistently interesting throughout the last 80 pages or so. Yet the middle parts are very uneven with a large focus on investigation and discussion of the investigation without enough charming banter or character interactions to keep it from getting tedious. There are occasionally some good parts sandwiched between the beginning and end (such as events during the dinner party), but it does seem as though this section’s pacing is slow overall.

There are three main reasons I did not find this novel as compelling as its predecessors:

  1. There is a distinct lack of covert operations and undercover shenanigans.
    Irene is most in her element when spying and thieving—and when she’s having fun facing these challenges, I’m having fun reading about them! This is probably why I found the first chapter to be one of the most enjoyable parts of the entire book.
  2. The setting was generic and had little impact on the story.
    This alternate world’s Paris was not particularly fantastic and didn’t stand apart as its own version of the city, possibly at least partially because Irene spent a lot of time at the various delegation’s hotels. Though it makes sense that this particular location may not be the most extraordinary given why it was selected, this also means that it’s missing part of what makes these books so engaging: spending time in a variety of worlds.
  3. It rehashed themes and questions from the previous book without developing them further.
    The fourth book had some focus on whether or not the Library could truly be impartial and neutral given that it’s composed of individuals with biases and weaknesses. While this installment largely approached this concept from a different angle with a new Rogue Librarian Character, it was still a major part of it, plus it’s still asking the same questions about That Revelation from the end of the third book. Even though I suspect I have a general idea about where this is heading, I’m ready for some answers—or at least some progress toward getting some answers!

The Mortal Word is my least favorite installment in the Invisible Library series to date since there are some rather dull parts, but it had enough intrigue to keep me interested in reading the sixth volume (especially since, at this point, I am invested in finding out what happens to Irene!).

My Rating: 6/10

Where I got my reading copy: ARC from the publisher.

Read an Excerpt from The Mortal Word

Reviews of the Previous Books in the Invisible Library Series:

  1. The Invisible Library
  2. The Masked City
  3. The Burning Page
  4. The Lost Plot