Reviews: The Forbidden Library

The Forbidden Library  by Django Wexler (Kathy Dawson Books, Expected Publication April 2014)

I admit it, I looked at the cover and title of this with some measure of doubt.  Magical libraries and people doing magic with books has been done and done again.   And I read so many fantasy books for middle grade kids every year that I become well versed in tropes and cliches of the genre.  I opened the book not expecting much, and I’m pleased to say I was proven wrong.  This historical fantasy wound up being an excellent read with interesting characters, an unusual magic system and an eventful plot arc.

Alice realizes her world isn’t quite as steady and normal as she thought when she spies her father in a late night confrontation with a character she can only think of as a “fairy” (although a very creepy malevolent fairy).  When her father is lost at sea soon after, Alice is sent to live with her mysterious “uncle” Geryon.  Alice has never known about or heard of this uncle before, but now she is staying at his  home.  Geryon possess a huge libraray full of books, cats . . . and magic.  Alice has always considered herself a rule follower and practical sort of person, but the lure of the library soon has her breaking rules.  The library and its magic and the creatures brought from within it have something to do with her father’s presumed death–and with the strange fairy she saw.  Alice wants answers more than anything else.  With the help of a talking cat she’s determined to venture into the Library on her own, braving the magic there to seek out the truth.  What she finds instead is her own latent magical talent.   Alice is a “Reader” able to use the magic found in books.  Her uncle wants to teach her to use her abilities, but can he be trusted?  And can Alice master her own magic in time to find out?

Perhaps my favorite part of this story is Alice herself.  Alice is a rather intelligent and practical girl who doesn’t intend to lie about when things go wrong, and has a pragmatic air of acceptance of things that just makes her fun to read.  Rather than be utterly astonished by the existence of the magical and mystical world, or attempting to deny it, this self-possessed young lady calmly reconsiders her world view and soldiers on.  Not that she’s accepting of everything–from the start it’s clear that rather than allow the world to simply overrun her and direct her, Alice has her own goals and interests in mind.  She’s intent on finding the fairy she saw talking to her father.  She resists killing creatures and imperils herself rather than kill something out of hand.  A clever, self-sufficient heroine is a very enjoyable thing to read.  My other personal delight is the cat. How can you not enjoy a cat named Ashes-Drifting-Through-The-Dead-Cities-of-the-World, (for short, Ashes).  These things quickly made this more than your run of the mill fantasy story and fantasy heroine.

The story is well written, balancing characterization with a plot that ticks along at a steady pace, I never felt the story dragged or too much happened at once.  The story is on the darker side with creepy magic, frightening critters, duels to the death . . . those who prefer a more lighthearted story may not find this quite to their liking.  That said, for those who enjoy the thrill of the dark and deadly at a middle grade level of scary, this might be a good match.  There’s a good deal about the magic system that’s not completely explained in this book–and I’m hoping we’ll see some time devoted to it in the next installment (I assume there is a second book at very least–too much was left unresolved).  How the magic is excised from books, how prison and portal books are made . . . these things really need some extra details. But I’ll be eager to pick up the next book about Alice to find out what she’s up to at the Library.

Suggested read-alikes:

Note: An advanced reader copy was provided by the publisher.

Publisher: Kathy Dawson Books

Expected Publication Date: April 2014

ISBN13:     9780803739758

Recommended for ages 9-14


About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on February 9, 2014, in General Posts, Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. You, sir, have been responsible for making me buy far too many books! My Kindle is stuffed to the brim as it is… Of course, I’ll now be buying this one too.

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