Wednesday, February 25, 2015

What We’re Reading: The Magic Ex-Libris Series

At the end of Codex Born (the second book in the Magic Ex-Libris series by Jim C. Hines), the world of Isaac Vainio, a librarian who works as a cataloger, researcher, and field agent for Die Zweif Portenǽre (the Porters), has been destroyed. There has been a cataclysmic confrontation between the Porters and the students of Bi Sheng, another group of magic wielders. Five hundred years ago, Johannes Guttenberg, the immortal founder of the Porters, personally tried to destroy the students of Bi Sheng. He was unsuccessful and their most recent confrontation with the Porters has left Copper River, Michigan, Isaac’s hometown, in shambles, with many of its residents wounded or dead. Gutenberg blames Isaac specifically for the conflict and has not only removed Isaac from the Porters but also stripped him of his magical abilities.

But Isaac knows the battle that just ravaged his hometown was only a precursor. There is now a malevolent force seeking out and destroying all magic users. And they have kidnapped a young woman with whom Isaac has been working. She can perform a kind of magic no other Porter can, by using e-books to perform libriomancy. It is a power no one completely understands, and now it may be used to destroy the world.

In Unbound, Hines continues the story that began in Libriomancer and Codex Born, but he does so without minimizing the events and actions taken (and their consequences) in the earlier books. An epic magical battle was fought in a small town in Michigan. There would be an aftermath, both for individuals and on a larger scale. Hines skillfully and believably shows how a large organization whose primary focus appears to be keeping magic a secret from the larger population would scramble to perform damage control, even when it is the least productive action it can take in the face of a larger threat.

Even more remarkable is the effect that Hines allows these events to have on his characters, especially Isaac Vainio. Rather than being just the quirky, stalwart protagonist who always has the right answers and saves the day, Hines allows Vainio (and all of the characters in the books) to be affected, often deeply, by their circumstances. Isaac is shown to lose confidence and sometimes even focus, and to take careless, sometimes unnecessary risks as he pushes himself away from the pain inflicted by his loss of magic and towards finding the young woman under his charge who has been kidnapped. This vulnerability of characters isn’t unique within genre fiction, but it is refreshing, nonetheless. 

Even with, or possibly in spite of, the darkness in Unbound, this latest entry in the series is an “E-ticket” adventure. With the loss of Isaac’s magical ability, there isn’t quite as much of the reaching into well-known genre titles to pull out and use items in magical confrontations as there has been in the past. But the exploration of how e-readers could be used to perform libriomancy, as well as learning about those who are powerful enough that they don't require texts at all to perform magic, more than made up for it. And (of course) there are also the adventures of Smudge the fire spider who, on his own, is reason enough to read the series!! Unbound is a solid entry in the Magic Ex-Libris series and will leave readers anticipating the next volume's adventure!

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