After Reading The Ninja Librarians: The Accidental Keyhand by Jen Swann Downey You’ll Want to Visit Petrarch’s Library

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Ninja_Librarians_Jen_Swann_DowneyThe Ninja Librarians (an irresistible title if ever there was one) is a lively middle-grade fantasy full of friendship, exploration, and a truly wonderful library.

Dorrie is a twelve year old girl, owner of a stage sword, fond of stage sword fighting, and someone who has just realized that:

“though she wanted to wield a sword against evil, modern evil had no intention of making itself available for spearing. Not in the cooperative way it used to once upon a time, at least according to the books she liked to read. Not in the form of a scar-faced villain in a black cloak with a nicely obvious fiendish laugh that she could corner with a piece of dazzling sword-work.
No, modern evil was…complicated, and its spectacularly vile, wicked villains—the ones who really knew how to brew up trouble, the ones who invisibly lurked in the radio’s news stories about war and hunger and poisoned rivers—were masters of disguise.”

She and her brother, Marcus, find themselves tumbling through a hole in a library closet into Petrarch’s Library, home of a secret society of Lybrarians whose job is to protect people’s words and, to the best of their abilities, people who get into trouble for writing or saying the wrong thing. The library has branches throughout time and space, allowing them to travel to ancient Greece to argue Socrates’ case or, now, to access modern Passaic, New Jersey. It’s Dorrie’s chance to learn to use a real sword to fight real evil. The trouble is, she has to learn sword fighting first. And there is the little matter of convincing the Lybrarians that she and her brother are not serving the evil Foundation, despite their strange arrival and other troubles that happen at the same time. Somewhere in there, she has to learn a bit more about what evil is and which sorts she wants to fight and why.

Downey’s makes one want to go to Petrarch’s Library themselves. Dorrie and Marcus face some suspicion and have some difficult puzzles to solve. They have one or two enemies. The Library also has a staff of supportive adults who teach useful skills—things like fencing, stealth, and reading things out of books (there are some great feasts in there).

The time travel largely works, and the historical figure most present turns out to be a great teacher and friend, but there are a couple of points where the adult me balked a little: It is hard to believe that if John Milton, John Stewart Mill, and John Locke had ever actually got to chat and then return to their respective times, they would return with their writings and theories intact. This, however, is a small niggle in the middle of a gloriously fun exploration of an ideal library.

While The Ninja Librarians: The Accidental Keyhand stands on its own, it is clearly intended to be the first book in a series with further exploration of the times and worlds beyond the library and the nature of the conflict between the Library and its mysterious, evil opposite to be developed further. Here’s hoping Jen Swann Downey gets the chance!

Publication Information
Published: April 1, 2014
Publisher:Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
ISBN: 1402287704 (ISBN13: 9781402287701)

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