Her life was more than just airship chases, cyborg alligator attacks, and hanging out with this alternate universe’s nearest analogue to Sherlock Holmes. She was a Librarian, and the deepest, most fundamental part of her life involved a love of books. Right now, she wanted nothing more than to shut the rest of the world out, and have nothing to worry about, except the next page of whatever she was reading. [loc. 3694]
Irene works for the Library, a vast mysterious place outside time and space from which any alternate world can be reached. Her job is to retrieve specific books for the Library: texts vary from alternate to alternate, and some books are inextricably bound to the alternates in which they were written.
We first encounter Irene as she burgles a School of Magic ("ANY KIDNAPPERS WILL BE TORN TO BLOODY RAGS BY OUR PROFESSIONALLY MAINTAINED HISTORICAL ARTEFACTS!") for a memoir about necromancy. On returning to the Library, she is swiftly assigned another mission -- and a new assistant, the mysterious and aesthetically pleasing Kai.
Their new quest takes them to an alternate London in search of a unique edition of Grimm, which turns out to contain a couple of extra stories that are important to the Library. This London is a smoggy, steampunky variant, with Leichtensteinian zeppelins, cyborg alligators, vampires and werewolves ('the Whitechapel Roaring Boys'), an infestation of chaotic Fae, a Great Detective ... and a rogue Librarian, whose outrages are the stuff of legend and whom Irene is very definitely not qualified to deal with. Her new apprentice turns out to have some secrets of his own, and to cap it all her own former mentor, the sleek and snide Bradamant, seems to be after the very same book as Irene and Kai.
The Invisible Library is an absolute delight. It's very fast-paced -- something is always happening, and Irene is always in the thick of it -- and full of literary allusion and warped versions of familiar London landmarks. It is also very funny in parts, and quite philosophical to boot: and it sets up admirably for a sequel or three. Irene is a likeable, intelligent and competent protagonist, and most of the supporting cast are pleasingly characterised.
I enjoyed this novel immensely and have pre-ordered the next volume: my only qualm is that the author may end up focussing on the alternates to the exclusion of the Library itself.