The Labyrinth’s Archivist by Day Al-Mohamed
Before I review The Labyrinth’s Archivist (2019), some disclosure. The author, Day Al-Mohamed, and I share a small press publisher, Falstaff Books, and we shared an editor. The Labyrinth’s Archivist shares a general theme with my novella and both are part of the press’s BROKEN CITIES line. I haven’t met Al-Mohamed and I get no compensation for reviewing the book. I bought the book on my own. If I hadn’t enjoyed it, I wouldn’t review it.
Azulea is the daughter of the Head Archivist and the granddaughter of a former one. She has a nearly perfect memory; she remembers anything she’s heard, tasted, smelled or felt. Azulea is prepared to continue the work of mapping the vast labyrinth of worlds, but she is visually impaired and cannot read or draw maps. While her grandmother didn’t think this was an obstacle, Azulea’s mother feels differently.
When the novella opens, Azulea and her friend Peny are trying to prove themselves by conducting an interview with a person from another world. Things go south when a third party appears, wanting a fight. Frustrated, Azulea soon has more serious problems, when her grandmother dies publicly and suddenly. Everyone says it’s from natural causes but Azulea gets a whiff of something she recognizes, and suspects poison. She begins to investigate but suddenly another person is dead, and Azulea’s mother and Azulea herself are at risk. And there are nearly too many suspects to count.
Al-Mohamed packs a lot into this slim volume. I like the role of the Archive and its political struggle with the city that houses it. The Archive wants to remain independent; the governor of the city thinks it needs more oversight and may be using the murders as a power-grab. This creates a secondary conflict for Azulea because her former lover works security for the city.
I like the descriptions of the citizens of the various worlds, especially since most descriptions are not visual. The mystery is well set up with good clues, but probably my favorite part of The Labyrinth’s Archivist was how convincingly a visually-impaired character moves through this story and how completely I believed that sight was not her primary sense. I chafed, as she did, when others around her (even her mother) dismissed or diminished her.
Azulea’s struggle, beyond solving the murders of a family member and, later, a friend, is to be taken seriously and respected for her skills, and she is constantly stymied in her attempts to do so. This was well done, and the obstacles she faces are believable. Her lover Melehti and her friend Peny are well-drawn characters, and Danislav, a visitor from one of the labyrinth worlds, is delightfully untrustworthy.
If I had a complaint, it was that one issue that is presented basically as a red herring involving visitors from those worlds and how they are treated was so interesting itself that I got distracted and wanted to know more.
The Labyrinth’s Archivist got a lovely cover, but disappointingly, there is a typo on the back jacket copy that changes the main character’s name! It is not Azalea.
The novella is fast-paced and intriguing. Mystery lovers will approve, and so will people who like strange “alien” characters. Azulea will stay with you after you turn the final page.