The Secret Chapter: The one with a heist in it

The Secret Chapter by Genevieve Cogman science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe Secret Chapter by Genevieve Cogman science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe Secret Chapter by Genevieve Cogman

The Secret Chapter (2019) is the sixth book in Genevieve Cogman’s THE INVISIBLE LIBRARY series. Librarian Irene and her former apprentice Kai, who is a dragon prince, hop between realities, trying to maintain a balance between order (personified by the dragons) and chaos (exemplified by the Fae). “Maintaining a balance” often involves the judicious theft of books from different realities. In this outing, Irene must barter for a book in order to save a world she spent her childhood in, and the barter takes the form of participating in an art theft. While the plot uses a “heist” structure, large parts of The Secret Chapter involve mocking and giving a critique of the James Bond films.

Readers who really enjoy THE INVISIBLE LIBRARY series, like me, will enjoy this one. There is nothing new in the book, but the story moves briskly, the banter is good, the descriptions lively and in the beginning and end, Cogman pokes fun at the actiony, over-the-top Bond films. One of the funniest scenes is when a thundering herd of Bond-villain-wannabes swarm Irene and Kai at an airport on a small tropical island. Cogman lovingly sends up every stereotype.

Once we meet Mr. Nemo, I did question a scene that happens with one character. It seems to be lifted directly from a Bond film — not homage or mockery, but a straight copy. I wonder what the etiquette about that is. It seemed like Irene, at least, should have acknowledged the film. I could be wrong on this. I mean, Austin Powers satirized much the same scene. It jarred me out of the book, though.

Part of the fun of a heist story is the gathering of the team, and that doesn’t happen here. Irene and Kai, outsiders, are dropped into the middle of a team that is already hostile to them. Their enigmatic employer/host Mr. Nemo, who appears only via TV screen, has already assembled his specialists. Soon the bunch of them, mostly Fae but two dragons, are off to a 21st-centuryish world to steal a huge painting.

I lost some interest during this phase of The Secret Chapter. The Bond-analog got a little labored as we had a long scene in a casino, an obligatory car-chase scene, and so on. Irene relies solely on the Library’s magical Language, and that got old after a while. The mystery of the painting was a good one, though, and leaves us with plenty of questions about the history of the dragons, and the possibility of a new threat to reality, and maybe the library itself.

Kai and Irene’s relationship entered a new stage in the book before this one, The Mortal Word. Here, however, they seem to be operating at about the same level as the other books. I’d like to see these characters exploring what their new intimacy really means for them and for their new assignments.

At the end, Irene’s charming nemesis Lord Silver has managed to complicate things even further, in a delightful way that promises fun and trouble in upcoming books.

The Secret Chapter breaks no new ground but it is a solid entry in the series. It’s a pleasant way to spend a few hours.

Published in 2019. In the latest novel in Genevieve Cogman’s historical fantasy Invisible Library series, Irene and Kai have to team up with an unlikely band of misfits to pull off an amazing art heist, or risk the wrath of a dangerous villain in his secret island lair. A Librarian spy’s work is never done, and after their latest adventure, Irene is summoned back to the Library. The world where she grew up is in danger of veering into chaos – so she needs to obtain a particular book to stop this happening. And the only copy of the edition they need is in the hands of a notorious Fae broker and trader in rare objects: Mr Nemo. Irene and Kai make their way to Mr Nemo’s remote Caribbean island, and are invited to dinner – which includes unlikely company. And Mr Nemo has an offer for everyone there. He wants them to form a team to steal a specific painting from a specific world. And he swears that that he will give Irene the book she seeks, if she joins them – but only if he has the painting within the week. No one can resist the deal he offers. But to get their rewards, they’ll have to work together. And is this really possible when the team includes a dragon techie plus assorted fae – filling the roles of gambler, driver and ‘the muscle’? Their goal? A specific Museum in Vienna, in an early twenty-first-century world. Here, their toughest challenge might be each other. The Secret Chapter by Genevieve Cogman is a bookish adventure where a Librarian spy must fall in with a nefarious group to achieve her goals. Imagine Ocean’s Eleven meets James Bond with a pinch of magic . . .

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Marion Deeds, with us since March, 2011, is the author of the fantasy novella ALUMINUM LEAVES. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies BEYOND THE STARS, THE WAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, STRANGE CALIFORNIA, and in Podcastle, The Noyo River Review, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. She’s retired from 35 years in county government, and spends some of her free time volunteering at a second-hand bookstore in her home town. You can read her blog at deedsandwords.com, and follow her on Twitter: @mariond_d.

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