This review gives an overview of The Invisible Library series to date, incorporating the first volume (previously reviewed on 26 July) which has the same title. First, the background to the series:
The heroine is Irene Winters, a professional librarian but not in any ordinary library. She is an investigator for the Invisible Library, a mysterious and secret multiverse-spanning organisation which aims to rescue the rarest of fiction, and in so doing helps to preserve the stability of the worlds. The Library exists somewhere in between the alternative worlds, with access to all of them. Some of these versions of Earth are strictly technological, some entirely magical, but most have elements of both. They also vary in their position along a scale with chaos at one end, and order at the other.
As well as humanity (which includes the Librarians, although they have some unique abilities connected to their use of Language, a kind of magic peculiar to them) there is a menagerie of magical creatures including vampires and werewolves, of which the most significant are the Fae and the Dragons. The Fae appear to be human but have a powerful persuasive ability and thrive in the chaos worlds. The Dragons can take human form or that of giant flying lizards and are basically on the side of order, but have little patience with humanity and are best avoided. Then there is, out there somewhere, the evil Alberich, a renegade librarian.
In The Invisible Library, we first see the resourceful Irene retrieving a very rare and ancient book from a magically-protected library, which she survives only because of her use of the Language. For her next task she is instructed to take with her Kai, a student Librarian. Also joining the team is Peregrine Vale, a private investigator who is an exact incarnation of Sherlock Holmes – Irene's favourite fictional character. Finding the book she is looking for is complicated by the intense interest in it from several important people – and other beings – and Irene is tested to her limits in her attempt to complete her mission.
The Masked City begins with a disconcerting incident in which Kai, Irene's student of many powers, is kidnapped and taken to another world, specifically to a bizarre Venice where chaos dominates. The threat of a war between the Fae and the Dragons is building rapidly, and Irene is the only person who might stand a chance of stopping it. She is opposed by Lord Guantes, one of the most dangerous Fae who is determined to start a war which would be catastrophic for the hapless human inhabitants of the multiverse. To prevent this, Irene has to go to Venice in the hope of rescuing Kai.
In The Burning Page, a different threat has emerged: the Gates used by the Librarians to travel between worlds of the multiverse are beginning to fail. This is soon linked to the return of Alberich, the renegade librarian who aims to destroy the Library altogether. Once again Irene, Kai and Peregrine Vale become involved in a complex plot to thwart the villain's plans and save the Library.
The Lost Plot is mostly set in a 1930s-style New York City, with gangs and speakeasies, which forms the backdrop to a ferocious battle between rival dragons. Irene of course gets involved, but finds that there is a high price to be paid for her interference.
The Mortal Word is set in another of the endless variations of Earth, this time in a Paris which seems to be late Victorian (horse-drawn carriages mixing with motor vehicles). This setting is the venue of a peace conference between the Dragons and the Fae, moderated by the Librarians. It is not going well, however, so Irene is despatched to the scene along with detective Vale and of course Kai, to investigate a murder and try to avert an all-out war.
The Secret Chapter provides yet another new environment for Irene, when she is sent to meet a powerful Fae collector on his private Carribbean island in order to negotiate the acquisition of a book which is very important to the stability of one of the worlds. However, to obtain this she has to join a team of criminals in stealing for the collector a huge painting in a Vienna art gallery, which turns out to have a particular significance for the Dragons. As usual, events develop at such a speed that Irene needs all of her wits about her.
The Dark Archive sees Irene and her friends under threat from the start, fending off various attempts at kidnapping and assassination. Furthermore, her work is complicated by the arrival of her new student trainee Catherine, an undisciplined young Fae who wants to become the first Fae Librarian. There are shocks for Irene as she discovers the identity of her enemies, who are determined to destroy the Dragon/Fae peace treaty - and an even greater shock concerning her own history.
These books are very well-written, with a constant thread of humour giving them something of the flavour of Connie Willis's To Say Nothing of the Dog. Irene is a very likeable character and the stories are immensely enjoyable. This series is among the high spots of my fantasy reading in recent years, and is highly recommended. Fortunately, the conclusion of The Dark Archive promises more books to come.