At this point I have read all three books, and my opinion of this series has generally remained the same, so I'm sticking this review on the first book and calling it a day.
So I was recommending this book to a customer once, and mentioned one of the biggest gripes I had a about this book: that it was very Eurocentric. To which I got a response of "is that a problem?" Among many customer interactions I've had it's not the most frustrating, but it did irritate me. Yes, on a general level, I find Eurocentrism a painful, long standing, and incredibly damaging problem to every aspect of our society here in the states that results in wildly inaccurate history telling and an assumptions that white people did/will/can do most things. More specific to the book, however, is the fact that it's apparently a library containing works from all over the universe, and all Irene can talk about is your typical old European classics. But the Invisible European and Associated Eastern Bloc Library, I guess, would not be as catchy a title.
Now, if you read that entire paragraph and are shaking your head being like "you're wrong and there's nothing wrong with Eurocentrism" then stop reading now, because this argument is important and arguably the sole reason why this book is so exasperating.
So Invisible Library is about a Librarian named Irene, which combines a lot of reading (apparently. Irene actually doesn't read that much, which isn't necessarily a problem considering there being action in the plot, but some of it does come off as the usual "I'm a reader because I'm deep and I love reading and I'm smart" grandstanding) with a lot of espionage. Irene is a "Librarian" in the sense that Indiana Jones is a "archaeologist" but with even MORE magic and the bizarre. Essentially everything there is to like about Irene is everything there is to like about Jones: she's suave, quick-thinking, full of witty quips, and I presume is fairly attractive on top of those attractive qualities because everyone has a crush on her. You'll probably have a crush on her too. I kind of did as well.
She is joined by Kai, a PAINFULLY
boring named Asian dragon, because to pick a more finessed name is to put more research into this book it merited, being trained as a Librarian, who Irene can immediately see has something shifty going on, as it isn't immediately apparent that he is a dragon. But he's Asian, and I guess it's nice that an Asian dude is being portrayed as sexually attractive considering other portrayals of Asian men, but I just want to point out that it actually isn't Kai that gets closest to bedding Irene. Always the bridesmaid, eh, Asians? I dunno why white people just constantly seem to beat us out at being the best option *COUGHJKROWLINGCOUGH*. I also want to note here that he is almost entirely missing from book 2, and none of the emotional fallout OF BEING KIDNAPPED is really addressed in book 3. Kai is like in every single summary for this series, but he is NOT treated like a Watson to Irene's Holmes. He is no equal, let me get that absolutely fucking clear. There are points in the series where Irene looks at and treats him like a child. Not as a mentor, but seriously considering him more than a little infantile. She hardly ever views him as someone she needs to depend on or simply needs at all. It's more than made clear that she could do most things herself, and tends to look at Kai like the inconvenient pet she has to make sure doesn't get into more dangerous scrapes.
No, the award to getting the closest - both emotionally and physically - goes to resident Sherlockian archetype Vale. Vale is essentially Sherlock Holmes, obviously, but without his Watson (which I will endlessly argue is WHAT MADE SHERLOCK HOLMES FUCKING INTERESTING IN THE FIRST PLACE), with a presumably Indian-British not-Lestrade/Gregson Inspector Singh who, other than being relatively protective of Vale, is not a developed character in the slightest. I mean - what is there to say about Vale? Other than that his introduction was what started my realization of the book's devotion to largely English lit. How a British character is well developed vs the "Asian dragon" character and Indian-British character. Who ends up getting closest to Irene, because we all want to bone Sherlock Holmes.
At this juncture I don't know whether this will be changing. There's a 4th book coming out, and I'm writing this post-book 3.
At this point, you must be like, Alice, why did you give this book 4 stars (at first) and why are you finished with book 3, and honestly waiting for book 4? The answer is this: putting aside many of the glaring problems of the book, the world building is well done and a fascinating way to go about it, and if I had been some elitest racist nonsense like, let's face it, huge swathes of the book-reading population, then I probably wouldn't see any issues with it. As it is, many of the books' characterization issues don't really hit until book 2 and 3, and at this point I'm waiting to see if ANY of this will be GODDAMN FIXED in following books. That is perhaps not the best reason to keep reading a series, but it's what I've got right now. In comparison to books like [b:Sorcerer to the Crown|23943137|Sorcerer to the Crown (Sorcerer Royal, #1)|Zen Cho|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1430239646s/23943137.jpg|43548024], it has nothing to say, nothing to give. SotC should be considered a goddamn standard of fantasy fiction and hat tips to classics: ripping apart what historically kept minority groups out of fantasy, and refusing to funnel its characters into the same old stereotypes.
Perhaps its supposed to be a herald to the classics that its presumably homaging, but homages in this day and age should at least be somewhat critical, and it's simply NOT at all. Hell, a middle-grade book - [b:Star-Crossed|27242442|Star-Crossed|Barbara Dee|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1489312283s/27242442.jpg|47291235] - managed to critically examine the Shakespeare text it was also paying tribute to, so why can't an "adult" fantasy series? It can. That's the problem.
So, let's talk Eurocentrism. The Library of the book's title is at the centre of all universes, connected to them in part by texts that make that universe unique. A Grimm's Fairy Tales with a couple of more stories, a complete Edwin Drood, a lost work of Tolstoy. Oh, did you notice what the authors all are? Yeah. That's
the problem. You could argue, pathetically, that Cogman attempts to inject some diversity into the book by making some of the Librarians clearly coded other races and ethnicities, and attempting to make Kai not a pointless character, but at its core it can't shake its Eurocentric predominantly Anglo-Saxonness. References to anything outside of that pantheon are few and far between, whereas she bandies nudge nudge winkness about well known Euro-classics with a friendly in-joke fashion right into the text. The work is intrinsically colonialist British, but thinks that mentioning that Irene is learning to write Korean is all she can do to acknowledge that other literature even exists.... even when she clearly can be hard pressed to think of a single title.
My biggest last straw in terms of excusing it came towards the end of the first book. Up until that point, I was willing to accept that the author was just poorly researched and ignorant - not the worst of offenses in a world where sometimes books can be willfully offensive and damaging (YA is a great world to be keeping up with, if you want to read up on some drama regarding this). Problematic, but ignorable, at least for me. Maybe that says something about me. In any case, the camel's back shattered to pieces when right towards the end, Irene receives demerits for - christ - grammar errors
I could go into how grammar is in its own way a manufactured piece of bull, constructed by supposedly educated elites wanting to feel smart by making others feel stupid, but as far "universal Library" idea goes, taking language itself
- because this takes place in the Library, and NOT in England - taking what is allegedly a universal Language
, language which is always fluid, changing, and whose most important aspect is COMMUNICATION
and propping up 21st century English grammar
on it was too fucking much. That was ignorance on a scale I couldn't handle. It's one thing to pretend that other literature barely exists. It's ANOTHER thing to say that the UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE USES ELITEST CONTEMPORARY ENGLISH GRAMMAR
I guess the books TRY to excuse this line of thinking - there is a point in book 3 or something where someone attempts to excuse it by saying you have to be specific as possible. If your grammar is incorrect, then things can go wrong because you're not being as specific as abso-fucking-lutely possible, but this is also abso-fucking-lutely stupid. There is no excuse. It's pointless and honestly almost directly insulting. It's a narrow-minded view of what language is, what language is used for, and is just another stilt to prop up the worthlessly elaborate house of "proper grammar" that supposed "book nerds" can point at to feel smart and cozy.
But Alice, I hear you say. It's a British book written by a British person so what are you expecting?
Then I want her to be calling herself out on it. I don't want her to be writing some facsimile of a "universal" literature and language. She shouldn't be writing a painfully colonialist Eurocentric literature story and then presenting
it as Literature and Language full stop.
And if she is, then she needs to take a step back and do some fucking research.
But hey, there's robot crocodiles in this book I guess.