Alice knows there are no fairies and no such thing as magic. Then, a fairy shows up in the kitchen, her father leaves without explanation, his ship sinks, and she is sent off to live with her previously-unknown Uncle Geryon. Traveling to Geryon’s, she reflects that “something had gone wrong. If fairies were real, then the world was not sane and normal anymore. If magic was real, then what she read in the Times didn’t have to be true” and makes plans to find out what really happened to her father. At Geryon’s, she learns he has a strange library, a building larger than it should be. There she meets a talking cat, Ashes and discovers that the fairy she saw in her house is meeting someone in the library. She also finds that she is a Reader, someone gifted with the ability to go into certain books and to use the beings she finds there.
Alice is a determined young woman who has a strong practical turn that helps her deal with the strange situations she finds herself in—and some of them are very strange. She reasons, “The difficult part was usually deciding where you were headed. After that, in Alice’s experience, getting there was just a matter of hard work.” Her solutions to magical problems are always based on hard work and sound reasoning. She also has a strong sense of right and wrong, which clashes with some of the rules of this new world she has found herself in. This gives her trouble because she is essentially a rule-abiding girl and finds herself in situations where the rules and what is right do not line up. She is a strong heroine in the sense of having good, common sense and a thoughtful, determined nature.
The Forbidden Library is darker than the initial premise—unending library, talking cats, and magic—might suggest. There are plenty of humorous moments, some wonder, and an amazing library. Alice also learns, though, that however kind Geryon may seem to her, “he is a Reader. His magic is based on cruelty and death. It is his nature.” Readers gain much of their power by going into books where various creatures are imprisoned and enslaving them. They resent their slavery, and Alice knows it. Further, the Readers themselves are capricious and prone to shifting alliances. Alice does not want to be a part of this system, but she is given little choice: She is young and under Geryon’s power. Once she has read herself into a book, her choices are to defeat the creature or to die herself. It is a nasty situation, and she has not, by the end of the book, found any solution, though she is determined to. There is room for at least two or three more books in this series as Alice learns how to be a Reader and unravels the various plots around her.
Django has crafted a strong first entry into what promises to be an absorbing series. Recommended, with the caveat that the reader needs to be old enough to handle some tough dilemmas and dark moments.
Published April 15th 2014 by Kathy Dawson Books
ISBN 0803739753 (ISBN13: 9780803739758)
Published April 10th 2014 by Doubleday Childrens