Review: “Unbound,” Jim C. Hines

Pros: Love libriomancy as a concept. Wonderful characters and relationships. Touching look at depression.
Cons:
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Unbound is book three of the Magic Ex Libris series by Jim C. Hines. This is totally different from his Princess novels, which are fantasy/dark fairy tale. Instead this series takes place in the modern day, and magic is the ability to pull items out of books in order to make them real. Isaac Vainio is a Libriomancer, but he’s also more than a little bit reckless. He has a dryad for a lover… who also has another lover of her own. (It’s an awkward relationship, but they’re making it work.) Romantic partners aren’t perfect gleaming gods and goddesses with steel abs and slim waistlines–they’re ‘real’ people, and I’d love to see more of that in books in general. Books one (Libriomancer) and two (Codex Born) wowed me. Each one has shown plenty of myth, magic, and interpersonal relationships, while simultaneously ratcheting up the stakes for each gamble Isaac makes.

This time, Isaac needs to stop a trapped almost-goddess from killing everyone and turning them into ghost-ridden slaves. Unfortunately for him, his magic is still locked away, taken from him by Gutenberg. It doesn’t help that Isaac is in the throes of depression. He witnessed (and feels responsible for) many of the deaths of his neighbors and friends when their town was pulled apart. He lost his apprentice–a teenaged girl named Janeta with an unheard-of ability to use libriomancy on an e-reader–to the terrifying power that’s trying to break out into our world. He has plenty of reasons to curl up in a ball and pretend the outside world doesn’t exist, but he can’t save Janeta that way.

Hines’ depiction of depression is spot-on. I had tears in my eyes when I recognized so much of what was going on with Isaac and saw how well it was woven into the story. I have to draw a distinction here: Isaac was depressed, and the depiction is necessarily a bit dark, but it never crosses over the line into the sort of darkness that makes reading it depressing. I enjoy reading dark things, but when they cross the line into actively depressing then I can’t stick with them. (My depressions don’t need any help of that kind, thank you very much.) The fact that Hines could ride that line so beautifully without ever stepping over it in the wrong direction is really kick-ass.

As was often the case, magic just chuckled and kicked physics in the balls, leaving it groaning and wondering what just happened.

Isaac’s emotional transition during the book is carried off beautifully. It’s easy to recognize Isaac’s mania when it hops into the scene. Unbound is a roller coaster ride of depression, mania, fear, love, shame, guilt, wonder, and hope. These are all shored up by Hines’ wonderful characterizations. From a fire spider to Gutenberg himself, he makes all of his characters come alive on the page.

I don’t want to say much more for fear of spoiling plot events. Let’s just say that you need to read Libriomancer and Codex Born if you haven’t already, because you really need to catch up so you can read the excellent Unbound!

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  1. […] “I had tears in my eyes when I recognized so much of what was going on with Isaac and saw how well it was woven into the story. I have to draw a distinction here: Isaac was depressed, and the depiction is necessarily a bit dark, but it never crosses over the line into the sort of darkness that makes reading it depressing … The fact that Hines could ride that line so beautifully without ever stepping over it in the wrong direction is really kick-ass!”-Errant Dreams […]

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