The Book of Secrets by Melissa McShane fantasy book reviewsThe Book of Secrets by Melissa McShane fantasy book reviewsThe Book of Secrets by Melissa McShane

Helena Davies, a twenty-one year old who’s been living in her parents’ basement since dropping out of community college for lack of funds, is at loose ends and clueless about her future. She needs a job ― any job ― while she tries to figure out what she wants to do with her life. Surprisingly, the proprietor of Abernathy’s Bookstore immediately hires her, despite her sparse resume. But her new boss barely has time to have her sign an employment agreement (“I … swear to uphold the standards of Abernathy’s without fear or favor, and to seal its secrets in my heart”) when he’s murdered in the basement on Helena’s very first day.

As the sole surviving employee of Abernathy’s, Helena unexpectedly finds herself in charge of the bookstore … which is far more than an ordinary bookstore. Helena gets swept into a society of hidden mages within our world that she never knew existed, and a ceaseless war (it’s called the “Long War” for good reason) with Lovecraftian creatures from another dimension, intent on draining the magic from people in our world, leaving them dead. Abernathy’s Bookstore itself, together with its proprietor ― who is now Helena by default, though some want to change that ― functions as a powerful oracle, answering questions and providing prophecies for those willing to pay its price.

With minimal knowledge about Abernathy’s and its oracular powers, and about the magical society she’s now a part of, Helena has to rely on a few new acquaintances to help her find her footing. Malcolm Campbell, a handsome magus fighting on the frontlines of the Long War, just might be one of the people who will help Helena. But there are factions that oppose her elevation to the custodianship of Abernathy’s, not to mention an unidentified murderer who might decide Helena, too, is in the way of his plans.

The Book of Secrets (2018) is the first book in a new contemporary fantasy series, THE LAST ORACLE, by Melissa McShane. McShane has commented that the series will likely include ten books, so we’re playing a long game here. That’s evidenced in the plot of The Book of Secrets, in which the murder mystery plays second fiddle to the set-up and world-building, as Helena, and the reader, gradually orient themselves in a new world. The pace bogs down somewhat in the process. At the same time, while we’re introduced to concepts like stone, steel, wood and paper magi, not enough really happens with them (at least in this first book) to cement the different types of magic practitioners in the reader’s mind.

However, Helena and her friends are appealing characters, and Helena’s primary antagonist ― a young woman who is convinced that she was supposed to be the next custodian of Abernathy’s ― turns out to be a more complex character than I would have guessed. And it’s extremely hard not to love a magical bookstore with a definite mind of its own! I’ve got the second book, The Book of Peril, in hand and am definitely on board for seeing what happens next with Helena and Abernathy’s.

Published February 18, 2018. Helena Davies just wants a job that will get her out of her parents’ basement. Abernathy’s Bookstore is disorganized, out of the way, and smells funny, but it pays well and promises to at least be interesting. She has no idea how interesting her life will become. By the end of the first day, Helena has a dead boss in the basement, an unexpected promotion, and the news that she is now a part of an endless war against creatures from another reality. As Abernathy’s newest custodian, Helena is responsible for its secrets, including the most important one: Abernathy’s isn’t just a bookstore. It’s the world’s only living oracle, producing prophecies to help fight the war against alien invaders bent on draining this world of its magic. Helena’s job is to find books to answer questions put to the oracle by the Wardens, fighters in the Long War. It seems simple enough, but Helena’s new job is anything but. She has allies: her best friend Viv, from whom she has no secrets; Harry and Harriet Keller, elderly magi skilled at uncovering secrets; and the enigmatic Malcolm Campbell, warrior magus and one of the few who have faith in Helena’s abilities. But not everyone is thrilled that an outsider now has charge of one of the world’s most powerful magical entities. Helena must defend herself against the antagonism of Judy Rasmussen, who’d expected to be the next custodian of Abernathy’s, and her father William, powerful leader of the Wardens and someone with an agenda of his own. Without training, without any knowledge of the magical world, and facing the hostility of those who’d wanted someone else to be Abernathy’s custodian, Helena must navigate the treacherous waters of her new world and find a place for herself within it. But there’s still a murderer on the loose, someone who intended to control Abernathy’s by killing its custodian—and Helena might be next on his list.


  • Tadiana Jones

    TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.