“And yet there was but one woman to him, and that woman was the late Irene Adler, of dubious and questionable memory.” —”A Scandal in Bohemia,” Arthur Conan Doyle
When reading The Mortal Word—the fifth book in Genevieve Cogman’s Invisible Library series, which follows the adventures of Irene Winters, librarian for the titular magical, multi-dimensional library—it’s impossible not to think of another literary Irene who shaped the mold for her: Doyle’s Irene Adler.
After all, Cogman’s time-and-dimension-hopping librarian lives in a “vaguely Victorian England with a tendency towards steam power, zeppelins, libertines, and Great Detectives.”
But, even more than that, The Mortal Word in particular begins with a mystery worthy of Holmes himself, and naturally, solving it requires the services of Peregrine Vale, the Great Detective of Irene’s world.
A murder has occurred in a Paris similar to the 1920s City of Lights we knew, and its reverberations may well destroy worlds—not to mention Irene’s parents. A peace conference between the Dragons (the forces of order) and the Fae (the forces of chaos) is underway in this version of Paris (seen as neutral territory) . These two communities of magical beings have been waging a covert war across worlds for as long as anyone can remember. The Librarians are tasked with keeping the universes stabile, removing dangerous books from the various worlds of the multi-verse and storing them in the inter-dimensional library.
The Librarians are, theoretically, a neutral third party, and were brought in as mediators for the peace conference’s secrets talks. Despite their best efforts, the talks have broken down due to the aforementioned murder of a member of the Dragon party. Naturally, the Fae are suspect, the Dragons are angry, and the Librarians are caught in the middle. Irene and Vale must solve the crime, and fast. Angry dragons are difficult in human form. Angry dragons in dragon form are to be avoided at all costs.
No big stakes, then. Just Ireen’s own life, the lives of the Librarians being held hostage (including her parents) to ensure the Library remains neutral in the peace talks, and maybe the safety of all the known worlds.
All Irene has on her side is her wits, her disregard of the proper rules, and her supernatural ability to use the “Word” of the Library to cause things to happen. Think Zatanna, except Irene doesn’t have to speak backward.
With Irene are her allies: Vale and the Dragon Prince Kai, once Irene’s apprentice and now her potential love interest. (Now that she’s no longer his mentor… Irene’s scruples no longer apply ow that Kai no longer works for her.)The investigative party also includes representatives of the Dragons and the Fae, in the human forms that they wear in this Paris. Neither proves to be particularly helpful, nor particularly trustworthy. Solving the crime isn’t going to be so easy, even with the help of the great detective.
The Mortal Word is a fast-paced romp. Irene is accosted by the various representatives of the Dragons, who exude an ice-cold charisma, and the Fae, who are more unpredictable. The chief Fae representative at the peace talks is an enchanted princess, who embodies all the myths surrounding such fairy tale creations. That means, by turns, she is by turns both perfectly helpless and irresistibly rescuable, and irredeemably cruel (as princesses are wont to be in dark fairy tales). One never knows with myths.
Toss in a Fae version of Elizabeth Bathory, poisoned soup, and an attack by the feral animals of Paris, and Irene has not a free moment to spare. Well, except for Kai, who is caught between supporting his family and his love for Irene. Will this be the book where they consummate their passion?
Read it and see.
But mostly, read it for the sheer thrill of it. Like all the Invisible Library books, this one is crazy fun.