The Labyrinth’s Archivist: A hero with a physical disability must prove herself

The Labyrinth’s Archivist by Day Al-Mohamed science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe Labyrinth’s Archivist by Day Al-Mohamed

The Labyrinth’s Archivist by Day Al-Mohamed science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsBefore I review The Labyrinth’s Archivist (2019), some disclosure. The author, Day Al-Mohamed, and I share a small press publisher, Falstaff Books, and we shared an editor. The Labyrinth’s Archivist shares a general theme with my novella and both are part of the press’s BROKEN CITIES line. I haven’t met Al-Mohamed and I get no compensation for reviewing the book. I bought the book on my own. If I hadn’t enjoyed it, I wouldn’t review it.

Azulea is the daughter of the Head Archivist and the granddaughter of a former one. She has a nearly perfect memory; she remembers anything she’s heard, tasted, smelled or felt. Azulea is prepared to continue the work of mapping the vast labyrinth of worlds, but she is visually impaired and cannot read or draw maps. While her grandmother didn’t think this was an obstacle, Azulea’s mother feels differently.

When the novella opens, Azulea and her friend Peny are trying to prove themselves by conducting an interview with a person from another world. Things go south when a third party appears, wanting a fight. Frustrated, Azulea soon has more serious problems, when her grandmother dies publicly and suddenly. Everyone says it’s from natural causes but Azulea gets a whiff of something she recognizes, and suspects poison. She begins to investigate but suddenly another person is dead, and Azulea’s mother and Azulea herself are at risk. And there are nearly too many suspects to count.

Al-Mohamed packs a lot into this slim volume. I like the role of the Archive and its political struggle with the city that houses it. The Archive wants to remain independent; the governor of the city thinks it needs more oversight and may be using the murders as a power-grab. This creates a secondary conflict for Azulea because her former lover works security for the city.

Day Al-Mohamed

Day Al-Mohamed

I like the descriptions of the citizens of the various worlds, especially since most descriptions are not visual. The mystery is well set up with good clues, but probably my favorite part of The Labyrinth’s Archivist was how convincingly a visually-impaired character moves through this story and how completely I believed that sight was not her primary sense. I chafed, as she did, when others around her (even her mother) dismissed or diminished her.

Azulea’s struggle, beyond solving the murders of a family member and, later, a friend, is to be taken seriously and respected for her skills, and she is constantly stymied in her attempts to do so. This was well done, and the obstacles she faces are believable. Her lover Melehti and her friend Peny are well-drawn characters, and Danislav, a visitor from one of the labyrinth worlds, is delightfully untrustworthy.

If I had a complaint, it was that one issue that is presented basically as a red herring involving visitors from those worlds and how they are treated was so interesting itself that I got distracted and wanted to know more.

The Labyrinth’s Archivist got a lovely cover, but disappointingly, there is a typo on the back jacket copy that changes the main character’s name! It is not Azalea.

The novella is fast-paced and intriguing. Mystery lovers will approve, and so will people who like strange “alien” characters. Azulea will stay with you after you turn the final page.

Published in July 2019. Azalea’s family are the Archivists – the ones who make the maps and tell the tales of those who walk between the worlds. She is the blind daughter, unable to be part of her family’s legacy. Until it falls to her to save it all.Her family captures information on all of the byways, passages and secrets of the Labyrinth, and those who travel it. Gifted with a perfect memory, Azalea can recall every story she ever heard from the walkers between worlds. She remembers every trick to opening stubborn gates, and the dangers and delights of hundreds of worlds. She will need them all.The Archivist’s “Residence” is a waystation among worlds. It is safe, comfortable and with all food and amenities provided. In exchange, of course, for stories of their adventures and information about the Labyrinth, which will then be transcribed for posterity and added to the Great Archive. But now, someone has come to the Residence and is murdering Archivists; using strange and unusual poisons from unique worlds whose histories are lost in the darkest, dustiest corners of the Great Archive. As Archivists die, one by one, Azalea is in a race to find out who the killer is and why they are killing the Archivists, before they decide she is too big a threat to leave alive.

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Marion Deeds, with us since March, 2011, is the author of the fantasy novella ALUMINUM LEAVES. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies BEYOND THE STARS, THE WAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, STRANGE CALIFORNIA, and in Podcastle, The Noyo River Review, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. She’s retired from 35 years in county government, and spends some of her free time volunteering at a second-hand bookstore in her home town. You can read her blog at deedsandwords.com, and follow her on Twitter: @mariond_d.

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One comment

  1. Kelly Lasiter /

    I just spotted this while wandering around old reviews. Small world! I went to college with Day. So I’m glad you reviewed this, because I don’t think I ethically can. :)

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