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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Libriomancer - Jim C. Hines

Before I talk about Jim C. Hines' newest novel Libriomancer, I wanted to briefly address his recent decision to withdraw from a Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) session with the Fantasy Subreddit community. The Fantasy Subreddit is made up of nearly 18,000 highly engaged readers. It's a wide ranging group of fans, some of a more literary bent and some Sandercrombiefuss fanboys of the highest order. I've been a member for a few months now and I've really enjoyed my experience there.

Hines backed out of his AMA when a thread, in an unrelated Subreddit, came to his attention. The thread was providing a forum for rapists to discuss their crime. It's a disturbing series of comments. So many comments when I can't imagine anyone being interested in reading it. In that way, I support Hines' decision; he's long been an advocate for the awareness of violence against women. His decision regarding the AMA is wholly consistent with his position. I'm also disappointed that the result of his decision was a loss for the Fantasy Subreddit, although I in no way begrudge it.

Putting that aside, I think the situation raises important questions. Questions that will only become more prevalent in an ever expanding on-line world. On a massive site like Reddit, which prides itself on providing an unfiltered mechanism for discussion, how do we hold separate units accountable? Do we punish users completely unrelated to the material we find offensive? How do we regulate it? Should we regulate it?

I heard someone use the analogy that you shouldn't punish someone in California for a crime committed in North Carolina. It sounds good, but the truth is the internet creates new situations, and thus new precedents, every minute of every day. How we choose, or choose not, to regulate it as a society will be fascinating in the years to come. I wonder if we'll see Hines' decision as refractory or progressive. Either way, I appreciate his willingness to be open about his reasons and hope he'll consider engaging the Fantasy Subreddit community in the future.

On to my review...


It's interesting to be reviewing a professional author who is also the prohibitive favorite to take home the Best Fan Writer Hugo Award next month. It seems counter intuitive, although it shouldn't be given the outstanding blog Jim C. Hines maintains. It's so good, in fact, that I wouldn't be surprised if many of his blog's readers have never read his fiction, a category that I certainly fell into before reading Libriomancer.

Hines' protagonist, and in grand urban fantasy style, first person narrator, Isaac Vainio has the ability to "reach" into books and pull out whatever he touches. Excalibur? Sure. Neutron bomb? Knock yourself out. Get your hand bit by a vampire? Well, there might be some complications.
There were no wands, no fancy spells, no ancient incantations. No hand-waving or runes. Nothing but the words on the page, the collective belief of the readers, and the libriomancer's love of the story.
It all began five hundred years ago when Johannes Gutenberg (yes, that Gutenberg) started a project (get it?) to control magic. He founded a secret organization known as Die Zwelf Portenaere who "took an oath to preserve the secrecy of magic, protect the world from magical threats, and work to expand our knowledge of magic's power and potential."

With great power comes great... enemies... and now Gutenberg's been kidnapped. Vampires are attacking indiscriminately in violation of treaty and Isaac seems to be in the middle of it. Along with his oak cudgel wielding dryad girlfriend (friend who's a girl!), Isaac has to find the unknown dark power that's manipulating it all.

Hines' previous work, Jig the Dragonslayer and Princess novels, fall into an odd category of young adult appropriate with lots to love for the adult reader, or so I interpret them. I went into Libriomancer expecting an urban fantasy with much that same style. On finishing, I felt vindicated in my assessment. What I didn't expect was how much I would love it.

I don't really enjoy urban fantasy. Combine it with something appropriate for younger readers and I was sure  I would find it without substance and overly reliant on tired tropes like sardonic protagonists and predictable romances, following linear mystery and/or thriller narrative styles. While Hines uses many of those tropes, he does so in a consistently clever way. The romance isn't predictable, the protagonist isn't sardonic as much as he's unsure and occasionally bumbling, and the plot has the kind of timing and pace I would expect from a legendary stand up comedian. That isn't to say Libriomancer is a laugh at minute, it's not, but the same techniques that separate an average comedian from a great one are likewise present in Hines' novel. The rise and fall of the action, the use of conflict and romance, and all the other disparate parts come together in a glorious harmony that will challenge anyone to not be entertained.

I've often heard novels described as "fun". It's a moniker usually reserved for novels that don't meet some lofty literary standard. "Fun" novels exist to pass the time, to escape the moment. In that way Libriomancer is "fun", but that adjective falls woefully short.

Anyone who's ever read a genre novel has imagined themselves in it, a participant in the world, or at least what it might be like to wield the magic sword and trace an incantation in the air. Hines exploits that emotion, plugging right into it with his magic system that blends the real world with the fantasy of genre stories. To such a degree that Hines provides a bibliography in the back listings all the novels his characters "drew" from (literally) in Libriomancer. It all communicates a passion for genre fiction that I felt can only be captured with one word--Joy.

Jim C. Hines' novel is an ode to genre and all the joy it's brought him. A joy that he brought me as I read it. Even if I'd never read his blog, or the other "fan" writing he's done, I would give him the Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer solely on the credentials displayed in this novel. It's a fantasy novel written by a fan, for fans. I would strongly recommend anyone who's characterized themselves as such to read Libriomancer as soon as possible.

Libriomancer is due out in hardcover (and eBook) on August 7 from DAW.

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At July 31, 2012 at 8:45 AM , Blogger Paul Weimer said...

I may have read this at about the same time as you did--but your review beat mine.

And yes, I completely agree with you.

At July 31, 2012 at 5:43 PM , Blogger Elfy said...

I enjoyed Hines' Princess novels, and I am looking forward to reading this at some stage, but the words DAW and hardcover mean that it'll probably be next year at the very earliest.


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