Review: “Libriomancer,” Jim C. Hines

Pros: Hilarious, magical, and incredibly quotable
Rating: 5 out of 5

Visit Jim C. Hines online.


Isaac Vainio is a libriomancer–a sorcerer whose magic consists of bringing the contents of books to life. This just happens to come with a lot of rules and caveats. Isaac can’t summon anything that can’t fit through the boundary of the physical pages of the book. Certain books are ‘locked’ against use. Over-using magic burns people out really quickly. And if he uses a given book too much, it can start to work its way into his head. Once a libriomancer becomes possessed by the characters of a book, he’s done for. As for Isaac, he got sidelined from the Porters a couple of years ago for mis-use of magic. Now he’s mostly a glorified librarian.

Until, that is, three ‘sparkler’ vampires attack him, and a dryad named Lena saves him. All of a sudden he’s trying to figure out why the Porters and the vampires seem to have gone to war, what happened to Lena’s lover (who happens to be Isaac’s therapist), and what has become of Johannes Gutenberg, the first libriomancer and head of the Porters. Aiding him are Lena, who rides a motorcycle and wields wooden swords, and Smudge, a fire-spider. He’s going to have to play fast and loose with the rules of magic if he wants to save the day, and even his own people aren’t likely to tolerate that.


Libriomancer is the first book in Jim C. Hines’s Magic Ex Libris series. This is one of those books that leave me going, “why did it take me so long to get around to this?!” I heard something about the third, upcoming book in the series, which reminded me that I wanted to start off the series, and well, there you go. That was all the excuse I needed.

Libriomancer is literally laugh-out-loud funny. My husband, who was trying to read a different book at the time, can attest to that. He can also attest to how quotable the book is, because I couldn’t stop reading bits of it out loud to him. (He puts up with so much.) The taxonomy of vampires alone, when vampire stories range from Stoker’s offerings to Meyer’s ‘sparkling’ stories, offers a great deal of comic relief, and the book is filled with fun, geeky humor.

Some people would say it’s a bad idea to bring a fire-spider into a public library. Those people would probably be right, but it was better than leaving him alone in the house for nine hours straight. The one time I tried, Smudge had expressed his displeasure by burning through the screen that covered his tank, burrowing into my laundry basket, and setting two weeks’ worth of clothes ablaze.

The worldbuilding is sheer genius. Every time I came up with a “why?” or a “but how” or a “but why can’t they…?” the answer came along. The libriomancer system of magic is clearly very well thought-out and extremely thorough. It’s fascinating getting a handle on how it works–and how it doesn’t. It’s the sort of thing that sounds like it could be an instant-win button at life, so it’s fun seeing how Hines keeps it from being so. I always felt as though the limitations made sense within the system as a whole, and it’s fun watching Isaac bend and break some of those limits.

The characters are wonderful. Lena is complex, her magical nature touching and unusual. She raises all sorts of thorny questions about the self and about how magic affects people’s minds and selves. There are no easy answers, either, which I appreciate. In many ways Lena is the heart of the book.

It would be very easy for such a quirky premise, with such hilarious touches, to be a simple comedy. Yet Libriomancer has love, lust, paranoia, tragedy, and the full gamut from easy jokes to difficult and somewhat dark topics. Also, Smudge, the fire-spider, is the awesomest magical companion ever. There’s a lot of personality packed into such a seemingly simple creature.

I enjoyed Libriomancer so much that I started reading its sequel, Codex Born, within a half-hour of finishing the first book. It’s going to be hard to wait for the third to come out!

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