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Literature / Magic Ex Libris

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Why did you ever let him have a book?

"Libriomancy was in many ways a lazy man’s magic. 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."

An urban fantasy series by Jim C. Hines.

Isaac Vainio is a Libriomancer, someone who can use magic to pull objects out of books. Or rather, he was, because after his magic went out of control during a particularly nasty case of fieldwork, he has been forbidden from using magic at all. Most of those with this talent work for Die Zwelf Portenære, commonly known as The Porters, an organization founded by Johannes Gutenberg. You see, when he invented the printing press, he did it to promote Libriomancy, because now people could read the same book in the exact same format. The first thing the guy did with it was use The Bible, pull out the Holy Grail, make himself immortal with it and then lock the book's magic so that nobody else could do the same. Only now he's gone missing, is apparently mind-raping Vampires and is using them to torture Porters and Vampires to death. Thanks to that, the Vampires have declared war on the Porters. Isaac only finds out about this when some Sanguinarii Meyerii, commonly known as Sparklers, come to kill him. He only survives because his crush-of-sorts, the Dryad Lena Greenwood comes to his aid and tells him that Nidhi Shah, his therapist and the person Lena was supposed to be bodyguarding has been kidnapped. Now it is up to Isaac, Lena and Isaac's pet fire spider Smudge to save the world from an all-out magical war, save Nidhi Shah before she is killed or turned and to find out just what the hell Gutenberg is up to.

The "Holy Shit!" Quotient only goes up from there.

So far, the series contains four books:

  • Libriomancer (2012)
  • Codex Born (2013)
  • Unbound (2015)
  • Revisionary (2016)

This series provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: August Harrison.
  • Absurdly Sharp Blade: Excalibur 73. It cuts through anything.
  • Action Girl: Lena. Later also Bi Wei.
  • A God Am I: August Harrison names his Dryad Deifilia, which means "Daughter of God".
  • All Therapists Are Muggles: Nidhi Shah is a normal human, who, however, knows about The Masquerade and has a tattoo that stops mind intrusion.
  • Anti-Magic: The students of Bi Sheng can unravel magic. So can the devourers.
    • Moly serves as the most common variety used by Libriomancers, owing to its use in the Odyssey. Automatons also have Anti-magic capabilities.
  • The Archmage: Gutenberg, Ponce de Leon, and, increasingly, Isaac.
  • Ask a Stupid Question...: Happens a lot when Isaac is trading banter with Lena, or Gutenberg.
  • Badass Bookworm: Just about every Libriomancer, but especially Gutenberg and Isaac.
  • Badass Longcoat: Isaac is sporting one on virtually every cover design. In the first book, he borrows the Tenth Doctor's to smuggle some books through security. The pockets are bigger on the inside, and the contents can't be easily felt in a patdown.
  • Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: Gutenberg created Libriomancy. In its current form, at least. Juan Ponce de León is a powerful Sorcerer.
  • Big Bad: Meridiana.
  • Big Beautiful Woman:Lena is referred to as heavy set and fat but also considered attractive by many characters.
  • Big Good: Gutenberg switches between this and Big Bad just about every few chapters.
  • Bigger on the Inside: Isaac likes to borrow coats from the Tenth Doctor's novelizations, specifically because of the arbitrarily huge pockets.
  • Broken Masquerade: The series shows the world before, during, and after the meltdown of the masquerade.
  • Brought Down to Normal: Isaac at the end of Codex Born. Also, Gutenberg during Unbound.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Isaac's ability to research proves incredibly useful on a number of occasions.
  • Clockwork Creature: The robot insects Victor Harrison left his father are something like this. They're also possessed by Meridiana.
  • Closet Geek: Nidhi Shah actually really loves Comic Books. She's just too professional to share that bit with clients.
  • Cool vs. Awesome: Anytime libriomancers come into conflict, expect this trope. Big bonus points to the sprawling chaotic battle between the Porters and the Bi Sheng at the end of book two that featured a robot dragon and time-stops prominently.
  • The Corruption: The Devourers. Also known as the Ghost Army. They more or less literally corrupted magic itself and will try to possess anyone using it.
  • Didn't Think This Through: In Unbound, the Porters release a fake Harry Potter sequel, thinking millions of people will read it and thus give power to the artifact they wrote about to use against the Big Bad. What actually happens is that people scream fake on the internet and are too busy arguing to actually finish the book.
    Ponce de Leon:You’ve done a marvelous job of blowing up the Internet today, Johannes.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Gutenberg. You expect him to still kick ass and take names after being Brought Down to Normal? Nope. He dies in the exact same chapter.
  • Endearingly Dorky: Isaac is so very much this. Apparently it's a large part of what Lena sees in him.
  • Evil Detecting Spider: More than once, Issac has relied on Smudge's instincts for when dangerous supernatural threats are near.
  • Fate Worse than Death: The spirits animating the Automatons are speculated to have gotten one of these. Also, the ghost army.
  • From Bad to Worse: Codex Born is made of this. The Bad: August Harrison, grieving for his son, is attacking the Porters with a veritable army, including artificial Wendigos, robot animals, and rogue Libriomancers who can use old Chinese books to drain magic away and later, his very own Dryad. The Worse: The Dryad is Mind Raped by the actual Big Bad, then does the same to the ancient, powerful Libriomancers in the Chinese books after pulling them out and then puts up an even better fight than August.
  • Gargle Blaster: One of the things that libriomancers do for fun is extract fictional drinks from books. Isaac once extracted and imbibed the Trope Namer. When he regained coherence two days later, he was in Ontario, dressed in a 19th century Mountie uniform. He's still not sure how he got there or why he was wearing said outfit.
  • Girl on Girl Is Hot: In-universe, Isaac admits as much when under the effect of a Truth Serum.
  • Great Big Library of Everything: If a libriomancer has access to Beastly they have access to every book ever published.
  • Insane Troll Logic: Isaac's justification for stealing Ponce de Leon's car:
    Isaac:Is it really stealing if you’re stealing from an asshole?
  • In Vino Veritas: While under the effects of a Truth Serum, Isaac admits to fantasizing about Lena. She doesn't mind, though.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: Gutenberg will do this to people who find out about The Masquerade.
  • Lensman Arms Race: Once libriomancy goes public, some parties start pushing for using it to get superweapons for their armies. North Korea flat out publishes a novel which features all sorts of nifty toys they'd like to have and requires all its literate citizens to read it regularly in an attempt to be able to get them. Isaac explicitly points out that this isn't likely to work - Libriomancy requires the readers to believe in what they're reading, and forcing people to read a book won't inspire that belief.
  • Late-Arrival Spoiler: Codex Born and Unbound make no mystery of the fact that Nidhi and Lena were a couple for years before Isaac came along. In Libriomancer, that was a huge revelation. Justified, since it's extremely important to the character relationships at large.
  • Lightning Gun: Isaac uses one through most of Codex Born and Unbound.
  • Lipstick Lesbian: Nidhi Shah.
  • Love Triangle: Type 7, starting with the end of Libriomancer. Lena loves both Nidhi and Isaac and they both love her enough to accept her decision. See also Free Will.
  • Magical Girlfriend: Lena comes off as this. The truth is a bit more complicated, though.
  • Magic Librarian: Isaac, as it happens, is a librarian in his day job for the first three books. He is also a libriomancer and a Porter.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: Unbound WILL get you excited about research concerning a late tenth century pope and the insanely intricate poem he wrote.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: Almost every variety of vampire, from Stoker's to Meyer's exists in this world, because of uninitiated libriomancers accidentally infecting themselves then spreading the curse. The vamps do organize into nests and are quick to leverage their diverse powers.
  • Our Werewolves Are Different: Like vampires, they come from libriomancers having an "oops." Unlike vampires, werewolves are fertile—and interfertile.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: It's a small moment, but there's a fully sapient, non-rotting zombie in book four. Apparently she got it from a zombie romance novel.
  • Possession Equals Mastery: Thoroughly averted. Being able to extract a magical device from a book using libriomancy does not grant the ability to use it. For example, extracting Harry Potter's wand does not grant the ability to actually cast any spells from those books. Isaac is specifically frustrated by how complex operating the sonic screwdriver is.
  • Power at a Price: Using libriomancy is exhausting, but leaves one too keyed up to sleep and too nauseous to eat. Enough libriomancy in a short time can easily drive a libriomancer mad or lead to possession.
  • Psychic Static: When Isaac suspects that people are trying to read his mind he starts reciting Fox in Socks by Dr. Seuss.
  • Public Domain Artifact: Various types of Excalibur turn up, the Holy Grail is an important background element.
  • Read the Freaking Manual: Apparently, the reason why libriomancers can't extract video game power-up items from their manuals is because nobody ever reads them.
  • "Reading Is Cool" Aesop: Isaac often waxes poetic about the sheer joy of reading, is a professional librarian, and every other libriomancer is an avid reader themselves. Awesomeness ensues because of this.
  • Really 700 Years Old: Johannes Gutenberg survived into the 21st Century, and leads the Porters.
  • Redemption Equals Death: The same chapter Gutenberg finally admits that he did Isaac and a lot of other people wrong is the chapter he's unceremoniously killed by the Big Bad.
    • There are also all the little snippets from the ends of the chapters in the same book.
  • Real-Person Fic: In-universe, Gutenberg, under the pen name of Darcy Nacht, wrote fan fiction about Shakespeare and Elton John. Out-of-Universe, this book has a romance between Ponce de Leon and Gutenberg.
  • Reference Overdosed: It's basically in the premise. In the first few chapters alone, we have Twilight vampires, Star Trek guns, a Babel fish, the size-changing potions from Alice in Wonderland and a lot more.
  • Sanity Slippage: A problem with using magic too much in a short time. Isaac tends to spend the climax of the book exhausted, incoherent, or dancing on the line between madness and genius.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: Meridiana
  • Sex Slave: Lena was written to be one. She later discovers that having multiple lovers allows her to freely choose which one to obey at any time.
  • Squishy Wizard: Isaac doesn't get out much.
  • Swiss-Army Superpower: Libriomancy. Any given libriomancer has access to an arsenal consisting of the entire recorded imagination of mankind.
  • There Are No Therapists: The trope Played With in his particular case when we find out that Gutenburg has been having trouble getting in touch with his lately, so he hasn't been having as many sessions as one might like.
  • Throwing Off the Disability: It's a sweet moment, when Isaac's wheelchair-bound niece gets up and walks.
  • Took a Level in Badass: There is a striking difference between what Isaac can do at the start of the series and what he can do by the end of book four. All of it justified by his continued research, growth and several epiphany experiences.
  • Unbuilt Trope: While the whole pulling-magic-out-of-books thing seems amazing, the series at large analyzes just about every single horrifying consequence of the idea, the most obvious being that there are a lot of things in books that are small enough for a libriomancer to pull out that would be very dangerous if let loose in the real world.
  • The Unmasqued World: In books three and four, and there are a lot of unpleasant consequences, but each book ends on a note of hope for the future.
  • Unusual Pets for Unusual People: Isaac's boss is engaged in an ongoing effort to create viable poodle-chupacabra hybrids.
  • Weak, but Skilled: Libriomancers compared to full sorcerers.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: What Gutenberg has become lately. Apparently the possibility of a nuclear apocalypse... scared him.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: One reason why Isaac is so against the proposed RAMPART act was that one of the clauses explicitly stated that non-human magicals were not legally considered people under the law. The proposed legal status of human magicals isn't much better.
  • The World Is Not Ready: The Porters seem to think so in regards to magic. Starting with Unbound, this trope is thoroughly deconstructed.
  • Wrong Context Magic: Jeneta can somehow use libriomancy with an e-reader, which even Gutenberg thought was impossible. Issac’s best guess is that she just has more power than the average libriomancer.