The Masked City: A fun, imaginative follow-up, and I loved the Train

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The Masked City by Genevieve CogmanThe Masked City by Genevieve Cogman

With The Masked City (2016),  Genevieve Cogman delivers a fun, imaginative follow-up to her The Invisible Library (2015) debut. We get to spend time with our favorite characters from the first book: Irene and Kai, Holmesian-detective Vale and the fearsome Coppelia. We meet some new ones as well, including a dragon, a new pair of adversaries and a magical Train, who was my personal favorite.

This review may contain spoilers for the first book.

In The Invisible Library, Cogman introduced the concept of high-chaos and high-order worlds, and the Library, which exists in all dimensions and whose mission is to maintain the neutrality of human worlds, mostly by confiscating (which is a lot like stealing) books whose power might tip the balance. Dragons, who can control natural forces like air, fire and water, are the forces of order; they do not appreciate or trust whimsy, creativity or stories. The Fae are agents of chaos, functioning psychopaths who care for nothing but themselves. Using manipulation and glamours they create narratives of which they are the main characters and anyone who comes into contact with them is reduced to a supporting role.

In The Masked City, Kai, Librarian Irene’s apprentice, is kidnapped and spirited out of the world they have been assigned to, taken to a high-chaos world. Kai is a dragon, and prolonged exposure to a high-chaos environment will do permanent damage to him. On a more global level, Kai’s uncle promises destruction to the world Kai was taken from, if he is not returned. The Library forbids any agent of the Library to enter a high-chaos world, so Irene must break the rules if she is to rescue Kai. Unfortunately, her friend Vale can’t help her travel across dimensions, so her only resource is the troublesome Fae Lord Silver, who has an ongoing feud with the Fae who engineered the kidnapping. Irene doubts she can trust Lord Silver, but she has no choice. It gets worse when Silver refuses to transport Vale, leaving Irene on her own.

Like the first book, The Masked City is filled with book humor and wry observations about life and books. The chaos-world is modeled after Venice during Carnival; in this world, it’s always Carnival. The inter-dimensional transport is a magical train, and the train is merely one form that two powerful beings, the Horse and the Rider, take for this venture. I loved the Train.

The new villains, Lord and Lady Guantes, are thorough bad guys. Lady Guantes is disciplined, loyal, smart and ruthless, a match, in other words, for Irene, and I found her the more interesting of the couple. I think we haven’t seen the last of her.

Irene leans heavily on the Language, the Library’s universal “true” language, to get her out of scrapes. I thought maybe she used it a little too much, but once or twice it didn’t work, which created suspense. When Irene falls back on her understanding of human nature — well, Fae nature — and storytelling to outwit her adversaries, I liked that better. The half-star difference between my ratings of The Invisible Library and The Masked City comes mostly from Irene’s over reliance on the Language.

Exposition in a fantasy is always tricky, and there are many things we need to know before Irene gets to the high-chaos world. Cogman deals with this by creating an entertaining expositional character named Aunt Isra. Aunt Isra was fun, and the scene where she fills Irene (and us) in on the background is also used to introduce a handful of eager, cut-throat interns who work for various highly-placed Fae, and who show up again in the story. Isra lays out the groundwork for the motivation behind the kidnapping, and points out an obvious and scary fact; for the Fae, starting a war is not an option to be avoided, but the creation of a glorious storyline.

If Irene was a little slow to figure out what was going on in one part of the story, she makes up for it later with her deductive reasoning and her ability to shift a narrative simply by behaving “out of character.” Readers who enjoyed The Invisible Library will enjoy The Masked City for all the same reasons; the puzzles, the book-bits, the action and the occasional snarky mental comment from Irene.

I’m puzzled about whether THE INVISIBLE LIBRARY series is being marketed as YA. I can’t really tell from the little bit of research I’ve done. I’m certainly enjoying these books, and I think teen readers would love them. There is some romantic yearning happening in this story, but it is PG. If you’re looking for a gift for a reader fourteen and up, these first two books would fit the bill.

Published September 6, 2016. Librarian-spy Irene and her apprentice Kai are back in the second in this “dazzling”* book-filled fantasy series from the author of The Invisible Library. The written word is mightier than the sword—most of the time… Working in an alternate version of Victorian London, Librarian-spy Irene has settled into a routine, collecting important fiction for the mysterious Library and blending in nicely with the local culture. But when her apprentice, Kai—a dragon of royal descent—is kidnapped by the Fae, her carefully crafted undercover operation begins to crumble. Kai’s abduction could incite a conflict between the forces of chaos and order that would devastate all worlds and all dimensions. To keep humanity from getting caught in the crossfire, Irene will have to team up with a local Fae leader to travel deep into a version of Venice filled with dark magic, strange coincidences, and a perpetual celebration of Carnival—and save her friend before he becomes the first casualty of a catastrophic war. But navigating the tumultuous landscape of Fae politics will take more than Irene’s book-smarts and fast-talking—to ward off Armageddon, she might have to sacrifice everything she holds dear….

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MARION DEEDS, with us since March 2011, is retired from a 35-year career with county government, where she met enough interesting characters and heard enough zany stories to inspire at least two trilogies’ worth of fantasy fiction. Currently she spends part of her time working at a local used bookstore. She is an aspiring writer herself and, in the 1990s, had short fiction published in small magazines like Night Terrors, Aberrations, and in the cross-genre anthology The Magic Within. On her blog Deeds & Words, she reviews many types of books and follows developments in food policy and other topics.

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4 comments

  1. I’m waiting for this one. Thanks for the review!

  2. Now I’m torn. I was waiting for your review of this. But with you dropping it a half star and pointing out the problem with the Language (one of the reasons I didn’t like book one) and the use of an expository character (another issue I had), I’m a bit leery despite the praise.

    • Agreed! I think I’ll wait until the trilogy is out (and Marion’s reviewed all of them) before I make up my mind one way or the other.

    • Bill, this book has all the things I liked about the first book, so it might not be your cup of tea. I’m thoroughly enjoying the series, though.

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