Liz Bourke Reviews The Mortal Word by Genevieve Cogman

The Mortal Word, Genevieve Cogman (Ace 978-0399587443, $15.00, 448pp, tp) November 2018.

In lighter news, The Mortal Word is as far from an ordeal as it’s possible for a novel to be. The fifth novel in British author Genevieve Cogman’s ongoing Invisible Library series, it is yet another delightful romp in the style to which her readers have grown accustomed.

The Invisible Library is a library that exists beyond the ordinary constraints of space and time. It exercises a stabilising influence on the multiverse (in which worlds are divided between chaos, where the powerful, story-bound Fae reign, and order, where dragons rule – though in between are contested worlds, neutral ground of a sort) by collecting rare books, versions of books which only exist in one or two worlds, and bringing them into the Library to better keep the multiverse stable. Librarians are the spies and thieves – acquisition specialists – who collect those books.

Irene Winter is a Librarian who’s already found herself at the centre of several multiverse-threatening (and personally perilous) events, as recounted in previous novels in this series. Now able to have a romantic relationship with her former ap­prentice, youthful dragon-prince Kai, she feels that she might have earned a small period of peace. Such is not to be: the dragons and the Fae are holding a secret peace summit, which the Library has agreed to referee. Irene and her friend, famous detective Peregrine Vale, are summoned to the peace confer­ence on very short notice. A senior dragon delegate has been murdered, and Irene needs to find out who did it – before the peace summit turns into outright war. If that’s not enough motivation, several senior Librarians – including Irene’s parents – are being held as hostages for the security of the summit in dragon and Fae courts.

As soon as she arrives, Irene learns that the mur­der victim may have uncovered proof of treachery by one or more Librarians, and at least one of her bosses, a senior Librarian, has his own ideas – and his own unsanctioned schemes – for the Library’s place in the post-peace-settlement world. (He’s setting Irene up for something. Irene can tell. She’s got experience with that sort of thing.)

Added complications include competing, treach­erous, and manipulative Fae factions, some of whom have very bloody designs, and a dragon leader who, despite his position as chief dragon delegate at the peace summit, may not actually desire peace at all.

The defining elements of Cogman’s work to date have been its liveliness and verve, the facility with which she combines action and humour, and the realism of her characters’ emotions (despite the often ridiculous situations in which they find themselves). The Mortal Word lives up to Cog­man’s previous form. It’s tense, explosive, full of witty dialogue, and at times laugh-out-loud funny. Chaotic drama and deeply felt emotion combine in ever-increasing stakes, culminating in a tense and revealing standoff. I really enjoyed The Mortal Word, and I’m really looking forward to whatever Cogman does next. Because whatever she does, it’s bound to be fun.

Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Her first book, Sleeping With Monsters, a collection of reviews and criticism, is out now from Aqueduct Press. Find her at her blog, her Patreon, or Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council and the Abortion Rights Campaign.

This review and more like it in the December 2018 issue of Locus.

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