I was absolutely delighted to be approved for this next adventure in this entertaining, original series, as I’ve grown really fond of Irene. See my reviews of The Invisible Library, The Masked City, The Secret Chapter, and my mini-review of The Lost Plot. But when a series continues over a period of time, the ongoing challenge is to make each story fresh and exciting.
BLURB: Librarian spy Irene thought her to-do list would be her undoing. She’s on missions for both the Library and a dear friend – the detective Vale. And she’s also training her new Fae apprentice, who’s more interested in the stacks than sleuthing. But now someone is trying to kidnap her and kill her friends. As Irene, Kai and Vale try to track down the would-be assassin, they uncover a plot. It’s even more insidious than usual and could threaten Irene’s headquarters, Vale’s home and the Library itself. Someone is creating links between high-chaos worlds and Vale’s world. Someone who wants Irene well out of the way – and will do anything to make this happen. When the allies’ investigation takes a wrong turn, they find themselves trapped deep underground. And while they wander among long-abandoned archives, Irene’s old enemies are closing in.
REVIEW: I really appreciated diving back into this clever portal fantasy, featuring a magical library with a cool, well trained protagonist who performs well when in danger. Given her magical ability is words of command that can change and affect the world around her, it makes Irene very powerful. But Cogman is also good at finding antagonists that are equally formidable, so that she genuinely has to struggle to prevail.
Much about this story worked really well. Having a new, Fae student who tends to be impetuous and rather rash, means that Irene has her work cut out to keep her safe. Especially as the young woman has the survival instincts of a bunny in the headlights, particularly at the beginning of the book. I enjoyed watching Catherine’s character develop and gain confidence throughout the story. I also liked seeing Kai’s relationship with his elder brother – it’s always diverting to get a bit of sibling rivalry going to upset a usually smooth team dynamic.
And the major plot twist was nicely effective – I was pleased to see the re-emergence of an old enemy who I loved to hate – and though I had an inkling about the reveal, it was gripping to see just how much it undermined Irene and her sense of self belief. This is definitely going to influence her actions in the next book, I think.
What was less successful, was the depiction of the ongoing relationship between Irene and Kai. In the past, I have very much felt the connection between them, but although we were told about it – I didn’t feel that strong emotional vibe this time around. While I’m aware this isn’t principally a romance, if the element is there and apparently they still care deeply for each other, I would have liked to have been more convinced by it. My other concern is that Epilogue… I very sincerely hope that isn’t a major misstep – only time will tell!
Having said that, you’ll see by the score that these issues weren’t major impediments to a thoroughly enjoyable read. Recommended for fans of enjoyable portal fantasy adventures and those featuring magical libraries – though whatever you do, start with The Invisible Library, or you simply won’t get the best from this engrossing series. While I obtained an arc of The Dark Archive from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.