Sunday, February 24, 2019

THE MORTAL WORD, fifth Invisible Library delight from Genevieve Cogman

(The Invisible Library #5)
Ace Books
$15.00 trade paper, available now

Rating: 4.75* of five

The Publisher Says: In the latest novel in Genevieve Cogman's historical fantasy series, the fate of worlds lies in the balance. When a dragon is murdered at a peace conference, time-travelling Librarian spy Irene must solve the case to keep the balance between order, chaos . . . and the Library.

When Irene returns to London after a relatively straightforward book theft in Vienna, Bradamant informs her that there is a top secret dragon-Fae peace conference in progress that the Library is mediating, but that the second-in-command dragon has been stabbed to death. Tasked with solving the case, Vale and Irene immediately go to 1890s Paris.

Once they arrive, it seems that the murder victim had uncovered evidence suggesting that he may have found proof of treachery by one or more Librarians. But to ensure the peace of the conference, some Librarians are already hostages in the dragon and Fae courts. To save the captives, including her parents, Irene must get to the bottom of this murder—but was it dragon, Fae, or even a Librarian who committed the crime?

My Review: Unexpected. That's the best word I can use for this book. The resolution wasn't entirely unexpected but the path we're led down to get to it was. The murder was unexpected, the murderer was unexpected, the terrible trials of the heroes were largely unexpected.

Just how I like my series fiction.

At the end of book four, some serious developments take place that are central to the plot and climax of this book. If you haven't read The Lost Plot, stop reading and come back when you have.

So after Kai leaves Irene's tutelage and establishes a less romantically squicky relationship with her, we're treated to another of Author Cogman's exciting escapade-scenes to bring us to this story's reality: She starts off by wishing she still had Kai's backup for those tight corners she routinely ends up in. Then back to B-659 London to assist Peregrine Vale (whose rigid spurning in The Lost Plot of her determined sexual advances surprised me in no small degree) and Kai on a minor but intriguing case that's quickly and completely forgotten when Bradamant, of all people, shows up to demand Irene's presence among the Senior Librarians immediately.

And that's the starting bell for ten rounds of boxing, shadow boxing, and mixed martial arts cage-match to-the-death political, magical, and ethical battling. Irene manipulates events in her inimitable "why is it always me?" style. She gets Vale and Kai to the scene of a horrible crime despite the Librarians' unenthusiastic responses to their inclusion in the proceedings. The Librarians have been tasked with leading this peace initiative, they're not interested in handing a party to the treaty (and the murdered dragon's fellow creature) a privileged place in the criminal proceedings. Never one to be daunted, Irene makes sure Kai is there. After all, her inamorato being a dragon, he was never likely to take a warn-off very seriously. Luckily, the dragon negotiator is one of Kai's uncles and accepts Kai as a partial replacement for his secretary and right-hand dragon, the murder victim.

The Fae, meanwhile, have sent the archetypes of scheming amorality, the Cardinal, and dewy-eyed sweetness and loyalty-inducing honor, the Princess, to be their main negotiators. These august personages use their chosen archetypes to manipulate all the humans they can reach into cooperating or even conniving with them for advantage over the dragons and the allegedly impartial human Librarians. The trouble is well and truly stirred into Irene's investigation, conducted with Sherlockian character (and part Fae!) Vale, when the Fae appoint Lord Silver...yes, that Lord Silver, the B-659 Ambassador from Liechtenstein, nemesis of both Vale and Irene in past books! be their being in place. Oh joy! And believe me, Lord Silver takes advantage of his position to rile up Irene in the ways that he's so very good at...condescension and sarcasm are only part of it.

As events unfold, the Fae are at a serious disadvantage: The prime suspect in the dragon's murder is none other than the archetypal evil female aristocrat, the Blood Countess Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed! The peace conference's locale, Paris (where else?) in a very 19th-century world, offers anarchism and grisly public entertainment like the infamous and terrible Théâtre du Grand-Guignol...a very real unreality guaranteed to appeal to Fae sensibilities and the Blood Countess's unique archetype of behavior. Irene is on the hunt for the killer, and the Countess is such an appealing choice, and there's no better diplomacy than to give people what they want....

She is at a crossroads. Choose the easy solution that will keep everyone in power happy? Seek the truth, damn the costs? When the truth finally hoves into view, Irene has a horrible choice ahead of her. The trail leads to the kind of moral quandary that the series excels at presenting. The cost of revealing the guilty murderer is unprecedentedly high, but Irene uses her position as a leader to lead everyone involved, whether her senior or another race's ruler, into a multiverse-changing brand new idea of diplomacy. She acts, in short, like Woodrow Wilson at Versailles in 1919.

The question is, has she birthed a United Nations or a League of Nations?

To be continued....

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