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The Burning Page (Invisible Library 3)
Pan, 15 December 2016
Source: bought from Waterstones in Cambridge
She had to save the Library.
Save the books.
The Burning Page is the third outing for Irene Winters, and these books just keep getting better and better.
Irene is a Librarian - she is therefore not only a trained assassin and spy but familiar with the mysterious, extradimensional Library whose mission is to collect books from all the alternative worlds in order to keep chaos itself at bay. Posted to an alternate Victorian London where Fae plot and scheme and a Great Detective, Peregrine Vale, practises from 221b Baker Street, Irene is supported by her apprentice, Kai, who just happens to be a dragon.
As if all this wasn't complicated enough, Irene seems to have attracted the special attention of Alberich, enemy and traitor to the Library. Alberich claims to have the power to destroy the Library. But he wants to make Irene an offer first...
That's a flavour of the book. It's clever writing revolving around a clever, confident heroine who takes no nonsense from anyone. And it's an action-filled, fun romp from start to finish. Irene's prime responsibility is acquiring - if necessary stealing - those necessary books, and here she repeatedly demonstrates a cool head, devising plans on the fly to infiltrate the magically protected library of a parallel St Petersburg or to escape from a secret-police dominated parallel Prussia. That's pretty much as in the previous books.
What's different is Irene having to cope with a spiralling crisis as certainties she relies on - about the Library, as well as herself - begin to unravel. This where, I think, Cogman manages to both to challenge Irene and to deepen her as a character. It would be easy to have Irene fall to pieces and spend half the book on introspection before she rallied at the end. Rather than that, Cogman has a clever way of Irene articulating her problems - to herself and, in part to others - and reasoning through them so that can see how close to the edge she is but also how she is adapting and trying to keep a step or two ahead of Alberich.
Along the way Irene has some new problems to deal with in the shape of Library internal politics - as Bradamant appears again, always a worrying sign - and work with both Kai and Vale, both of whom she rather fancies, proves complicated. But she's never stumped.
Cogman's writing is, as always, a joy, whether it's Alberich duelling verbally with Irene during a dance:
"The Palace is guarded... I don't just mean by casual guards, either. I mean by alert guards... guards ready to shoot and kill and have the necromancers ask questions later"
or Irene herself coolly reviewing her options in a den of werewolves or skilfully managing those pesky men who WILL keep assuming they know best (despite NOT being qualified Librarians).
I really enjoyed this book, which surpasses the high standard set by its forerunners. I hope that Cogman writes more, though I sense there may be a natural pause after this (if I'm wrong about that I'll be delighted).