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Literature / The Invisible Library

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A fantasy novel series by Genevieve Cogman starting with the first novel The Invisible Library.

Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, a shadowy organization that collects important works of fiction from all of the different realities. Most recently, she and her enigmatic assistant Kai have been sent to an alternative London. Their mission: Retrieve a particularly dangerous book. The problem: By the time they arrive, it's already been stolen.

London's underground factions are prepared to fight to the death to find the tome before Irene and Kai do, a problem compounded by the fact that this world is chaos-infested — the laws of nature bent to allow supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic to run rampant. To make matters worse, Kai is hiding something—secrets that could be just as volatile as the chaos-filled world itself.

Now Irene is caught in a puzzling web of deadly danger, conflicting clues, and sinister secret societies. And failure is not an option—because it isn’t just Irene's reputation at stake, it’s the nature of reality itself...

Books in the series:

Tropes found in The Invisible Library Series as a whole

  • Alternate History: Every "alternate" has a different history, for example the one that Irene and Kai are in for most of the first book is a reality where the British never conquered India and Russia colonized China and Japan.
  • Background Magic Field: The forces of order and chaos, while embodied by dragons and Fae respectively, are also raw forces of power that calcify and corrupt every world and every object they touch. The most orderly and chaotic worlds are dangerous even for their native residents.
  • Both Order and Chaos are Dangerous: The Fae, representing chaos, see humans as little more than background characters who act out whatever role the Fae have for them at the moment. Dragons, representing order, are presented as more reasonable on a personal level, but worlds under their influence have a tendency to develop authoritarian governments. The Library tries to stay neutral and avoids getting involved in conflicts between the two.
  • Can't Argue with Elves: Dragons have many advantages over humans (most notably their longevity and their ability to shift between human and draconic form), but they act as if every aspect of dragon society is superior to all others and sincerely believe that humans should worship the ground they walk upon.
  • Compelling Voice: The Language can be used for this, although it will wear off eventually and leave the affected person perfectly aware the something was done to them.
  • Corporate Dragon: Despite the fact that Dragons in The Invisible Library are based mainly on Eastern dragon tropes, in The Masked City, Irene meets the King of the Northern Ocean in a cyberpunkish dimension where he and his court take the form of the CEO and executives of a Megacorp.
  • Cosmic Keystone: Played with. The various worlds in The Multiverse tend to drift towards either stagnating order or destructive chaos on their own, but retrieving a book from that world and adding it to the Library's collection can help stabilize that world.
  • Damsel in Distress: Played with in every possible way. Irene is far less helpless than she appears, but this often means her going into very dangerous situations, often involving foes familiar with her unusual abilities. Her male companions are just as likely to be put in similar situations for similar reasons.
  • Dimensional Traveler: All Librarians are able to travel between worlds by either using one of the many doors linking the Library to other worlds' libraries or by creating a door using the Language. Dragons and Fae also have their own means of interdimensional travel.
  • Eldritch Location: The eponymous Library. It is an enormous building located in a timeless space that seems to be in the middle of a sprawling but unpopulated city. It has a peculiar and somewhat nonsensical layout which occasionally requires people to crawl through small passages to get from one wing to another, and is connected to other realities by sympathetic links based on unique works of literature.
  • The Fair Folk: The Fae, beings from outside of time and space that see themselves as the protagonists of their own personal stories and think of normal humans as background actors that exist to fulfill their particular narrative. The really powerful ones have become their story and cannot exist in worlds were reality is less friendly to their nature.
  • Fantasy Kitchen Sink: Each alternate world has a certain degree of magic and technology. Depending on how chaos-infested and/or magical a world is, this can manifest itself in vampires, werewolves, fairies...
  • First-Episode Twist: Kai's identity as a dragon is crucial to understanding his character and drives multiple plot lines in later books.
  • Genre Savvy: Irene knows how chaos-infested worlds change themselves to fit stories and actively tries to keep herself in a heroic role.
  • Great Big Library of Everything: Zig-zagged. While the Library does not have the sum total of all human knowledge, it does include unique stories from all across The Multiverse (and language books to teach the languages needed to read them).
  • Hiding Behind the Language Barrier: Whenever Kai and Irene are in an area where they might be overheard by their opponents, they pick a language to hide their conversation behind.
  • I Gave My Word: Justified. The Fae have their typical compulsion to fulfill their given word, and Librarians can bind their spoken words to reality with the Language. Characters who make this sort of vow to non-Librarians and/or non-Fae occasionally need to remind these people of that fact.
  • I Know Your True Name: The Language works on this, with the added twist that failing to be specific enough will cause it to affect anything within earshot that fits the description. Further, this is part of why Librarians use aliases, for their own protection.
    • The Fae, as one might expect, are especially vulnerable to being called by their true name.
  • Inn Between the Worlds: The Library sits outside of all worlds and is linked to any world that a book in its collection could call home. The more unique books the Library has from a world, the stronger that connection is.
  • Language of Magic: The Language can warp reality to do whatever the speaker wants it to do, within limits - using it on living things or at larger scales takes a noticeable toll on the user.
  • Locked Out of the Loop: Most people the Librarians interact with in alternate realities have no idea that the Library exists.
  • Magic Librarian: Irene and her colleagues.
  • Magical Library: The nature of the Library is such that every book added to its collection strengthens its connections to The Multiverse and stabilizes the alternate worlds within.
  • Magically-Binding Contract: Speaking a vow in the Language binds its speaker to the letter of their spoken word. Similarly, a Fae's given word is also binding.
  • Magitek: The alternate world Irene spends most of her time in has zeppelins powered by magic and aether lamps.
  • Meaningful Name: Librarians have a tendency to pick these for their covers, and Irene has to caution Kai not to pick aliases that will give too much away.
    • Irene tends to get teased by more experienced librarians for her chosen alias, especially once they note she's teamed up with a Sherlock Holmes expy.
  • The Multiverse: There are infinite realities.
  • Nom de Guerre: All of the Librarians adopt aliases of some personal meaning. From time to time, Librarians will snark over others' choices of aliases.
  • The Omniscient Council of Vagueness: The Three Founders of the Library.
  • Order Versus Chaos: The overarching conflict of the series is the Forever War between the dragons (representing order) and the Fae (representing chaos). The Library considers itself part of order, but sees its primary goal as the preservation of knowledge and so tries to stay neutral in larger conflicts.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: All of the dragons seen in the series are based on eastern lines, being long and sinuous with strong ties to the elements as well as the forces of order in general. Dragons can also appear as humans, ranging from scaled but somewhat human-looking to indistinguishable from a normal human.
  • Place Beyond Time: Time doesn't pass in the Library. This has its ups and downs, as while people can live forever there, any injuries they have never heal unless directed by the Language.
  • The Power of Language: As might be expected of a series where Librarians alter reality with the spoken word, but the series also frequently touches upon the power of saying certain things, thoughts, and feelings out loud. Sometimes no words are needed, but other times, expressing a thought in words gives it far more power than letting it go unspoken.
  • Puny Earthlings: Fae view humans as little more than set dressing, while dragons simply see humans as inferior beings. Even Librarians tend to look down on normal humans, though in fairness their connection to the Library does give them special powers.
  • Really 700 Years Old: Downplayed, but implied to be true about many Librarians, since people do not age while in the Library. Irene herself has been alive for about 40 years, while still being physically 25.
  • Refuse to Rescue the Disliked: Conversed. Irene muses at one point that while she may not have any fellow Librarians who want her dead, there might be a couple who wouldn't rush to save her when her life is in danger.
  • Supernatural Sensitivity: Beings of order and chaos can sense their opposite force. Dragons with elemental powers can also sense the presence of their element.
  • Sympathetic Magic: The Language often runs on the power of symbolism, seen most often by linking a worlds' libraries with the Library. That is to say, a large collection of books carries enough resemblance to the Library to borrow some of its power and allow Librarians to open Portal Doors to the Library.
  • Theory of Narrative Causality: Chaos infested worlds run on this - Fae and the underpinning forces of chaos in those worlds will actively work to alter events to fit plot structures. In especially chaos infested worlds humans are little more than puppets or set dressing that act according to Fey whims.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: One of the hazards of high-chaos worlds is getting caught up in a story and misunderstanding your place in it.

Tropes found in The Invisible Library Novel

  • Ambiguously Bi: Irene mentions that her type is dark and morally questionable people, which led to the story with the thief. Later, said thief is revealed to have been a woman.
  • The Casanova: Silver is supernaturally charming, due to being a Fae. Irene has to make a conscious effort to resist his advances even when she's appalled by his behavior.
  • Dead All Along: Dominic Aubrey
  • Demonic Possession: In alternate B-395, radios have the troubling tendency to get taken over by demons.
  • The Dreaded: Alberich is so dangerous, the Library, as obsessed with secrecy as it is, will still go through quite a bit of trouble to send a very disruptive message to Irene while she's in the middle of alternate-Victorian London.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: The Language doesn't have the Cast from Stamina restriction found in later books, the use of the Language as a Compelling Voice has a more negative stigma against it, and reference is made to the Library living on Narnia Time.
  • Expy: Vale is essentially his Earth's version of Sherlock Holmes, a comparison which gets Lampshade Hanging.
  • Humanoid Abomination: Alberich is revealed to be this, due to being so heavily corrupted by Chaos.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Kai comes up with fake names for himself and Irene on the spot, and she is mildly annoyed to realize he's given them both names of characters from The Three Musketeers, translated from French.
    • Aubrey and Alberich are related names, Aubrey being derived from Alberich.
  • The Rival: Bradamant, the librarian who first trained Irene.
  • The Reveal: Kai is a dragon, which Irene finds out when Alberich tries to drown them and Kai commands the river spirit not to. Later on, the reveal that Aubrey has been Dead All Along, and Irene was previously dealing with Alberich wearing his skin as a disguise.
  • Secret Circle of Secrets: There are many secret societies in B-395.
  • Secret Identity: Librarians are expected to build or adopt an alias while visiting alternate Earths. When put on the spot, Kai introduces himself and Irene as Kay Strongrock and Miss Winters. Irene later calls him out on basically cribbing the names from The Three Musketeers.
  • Skin Walker: Alberich can steal people's skin and wear it.
  • Steampunk: Alternate B-395 is at steam-punk levels of technology.
  • Sherlock Scan: Vale does this and this is how he picks up that Irene and Kai aren't who they say they are.
  • What the Hell Is That Accent?: This is how Vale figures out that Irene and Kai aren't English, as, according to him, Kai sounds like he's from Shanghai and Irene sounds a bit German.
  • World of Weirdness: B-395 includes vampires as members of polite society (and werewolves as members of less polite society). The question is not whether vampires and such exist, but whether or not they're illegal.