It’s difficult for me to review novels right now. Fortunately, Genevieve Cogman’s The Burning Page is a delightful pulp adventure, following on from her The Invisible Library and The Masked City. It’s sharp, snarky, funny, and generous—and it takes the reader on a fast and entertaining romp of a story.
With a little frisson of darkness underneath.
Irene, spy and agent for the interdimensional Library, is on probation after her adventure in The Masked City. Turns out her superiors aren’t really happy with her for disobeying orders and marching off to a high-chaos world to rescue her kidnapped assistant (and also dragon prince) Kai from Fae who wanted to start a war. Now Irene—and Kai—are stuck with the worst jobs: simple retrieval jobs for the Library in the most awkward circumstances. But Irene has this unfortunate tendency to attract trouble, and in the wake of her previous adventures, she’s amassed a fair number of enemies. No surprise, then, that when she runs into an attempt to kill her, she doesn’t know who to blame.
Minor attempts at murder aren’t the most pressing issue in Irene’s life right now, though. Her old nemesis, the incomparable powerful Alberich—former Librarian, traitor to the Library, and general vicious badass—is back. This time, he’s not after a single book, or revenge on a single Librarian. This time, he’s going to destroy the entire Library, and Irene along with it.
Of course, Irene’s superiors don’t necessarily think that Irene is one of Alberich’s primary targets, so she’s basically on her own when it comes to stopping him. Well, on her own apart from Kai—and his tendency to be overprotective—and Peregrine Vale, a great detective in the mould of Sherlock Holmes who’s unfortunately suffering some side effects from following Irene to a high-chaos world to help rescue Kai. (She didn’t ask him to.)
Her relations with her friends are complicated by the fact that she finds both of them very attractive. But she can’t act on her feelings with Kai (even though they’re reciprocated) because it would be unethical as long as she’s his mentor, while Vale reciprocates her feelings but refuses to act on them out of some sense of chivalry. Irene is a little frustrated with the boys on her team, and more so when it becomes clear that someone on her own side is betraying her to Alberich. Now it’s not enough that she has to deal with giant venomous spiders, venomous wasps, and werewolves with knockout drugs: she’s got to deal with the possibility of being stabbed in the back as well.
The Burning Page isn’t a particularly deep novel. It’s a whirlwind tour of abandoned Paris buildings (on fire), London sewers (inhabited by werewolves), Russian palaces (filled with irritated magic-users), rooms full of venomous creatures, and a chaos dimension (that also ends up on fire). Irene sets a lot of things on fire, knocks down several walls, and causes at least one flood, all the while trying not to kill anyone who doesn’t deserve it, and wondering why her job description—which is usually “collect books”—seems to have been altered without her prior consent to “save the multiverse, or at least the Library parts of it.”
Cogman knows how to tell a story. And her voice is perfect for the story she tells: lightly sarcastic and entertainingly humorous, with a serious under layer when it comes to ethics, responsibility, and not killing people just because they have something you want, or because they’re in your way.
I really, really enjoyed The Burning Page, and I look forward to seeing what Irene—and Cogman—does next.
The Burning Page is available January 10th from Roc.