The Dark Archive by Genevieve Cogman
Fans of THE INVISIBLE LIBRARY series will enjoy 2020’s The Dark Archive. Cogman’s intrepid librarian Irene bounds from one adventure to another, armed with her wits, magical knowledge and the power of the Library’s Language. This story adds important information to the conspiracy that is bubbling in the background, while serving up a comfortable, familiar set of adventures for Irene and her team. Along the way, we get to know some secondary characters a bit better.
When Irene’s detective friend Peregrine Vale takes Irene through a suboceanic tunnel to retrieve a vitally important letter, the two realize almost immediately that they’ve been lured into a trap, fighting zombiefied sailors who are being compelled by mechanical cerebral controllers. Escaping them, Irene comes face to face with an old Fae adversary she knows is dead—because she killed him. Something’s very wrong here, Irene decides, as she and Vale escape.
Irene, who is the lead negotiator on the contentious treaty discussions between the Fae, avatars of chaos and the dragons, avatars of order, has plenty of headaches already—several assassination attempts against her and her team, and the imposition of an impossible new apprentice, Catherine, who is a Fae. As a Fae, she is unable to enter the Library, which guards itself against chaos, but for the treaty to be successful, Catherine must enter the Library as a true Librarian. This is a thorny problem to face while grappling with back-from-the-dead enemies and hints of a larger, more frightening evil plan in the offing.
The Dark Archive follows the usual lines of these books, with travel, ambushes, attacks and quests for hidden/stolen objects. As always, Irene relies heavily on her use of the Language, until late in the book where there a couple of instances when she can’t use it. Catherine, who is self-centered, recalcitrant and desperate to be a Librarian, makes a nice complication here. Kai goes to the dragon world to get information and has to deal with his controlling older half-brother Shan Yuan. Cogman seems to lay some clues hinting at issues among the dragon clans, while also showing us that in addition to being overbearing, Shan Yuan is also envious of his younger brother. It’s nice to see their relationship. I enjoyed the re-emergence of two of Irene’s former Fae adversaries.
Another nice bit, clearly in development for later novels, is Irene’s concern about Peregrine Vale. Though human, Vale has Fae ancestry, as this leaves him susceptible to the drive of the archetype, succumbing to the power of Narrative, which is essentially how Fae live their lives. The pull of the Great Detective archetype is starting to take its toll on Vale, although he doesn’t seem to see it.
The climactic scenes take place in and beneath the Cathedral of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, but my favorite section of the book was the whacky scientists convention Irene and her team infiltrate.
For me, this book suffered from I-thought-we-knew-that syndrome. Near the end, Vale shares a revelation that is supposed to be shocking and terrible. I obviously misread an earlier volume because I thought it was something we already knew. (For those who did not have that happen, this revelation is dramatic, and it explains a lot.)
The Dark Archive delivers the wit, the excitement, the emotional complications, the backstabbing and betrayal we’ve come to expect from these books. It’s definitely a worthy entry in the series.