The first two books in the Magic Ex Libris series were fun, pulpy romps through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (and through the annals of great fantasy and sci-fi literature). We followed librarian cum libriomancer, Isaac Vainio, a man who can use magic to pull things out of books, as he fought off all mess of troubles. As a member of the Porters, a secret society of magic users developed by Johannes Gutenberg, inventor of the printing press, in the 1400s, Isaac and his compatriots were responsible for regulating the magical world and keeping safe the boundaries between fiction and reality. All that went to hell last book when Isaac made some critical errors, a bunch of people he knew were killed and untold damage caused to his town, and was ultimately stripped of his magic by Gutenberg himself. So that’s where Unbound opens, with Isaac in the worst emotional place of his life: mourning the loss of his magic, angry and clinically depressed over everything, and guilty over the abduction of his young student, Jeneta, who is now being used by a 1,000 year old sorceress intent on ruling the realms of both life and death using her own terrifying brand of magic, which is like libriomancy times a million.
It’s actually pretty dark for a series previously only featuring fun and pulpy romp type stuff. But the dark stuff, instead of weighing it down unnecessarily, gives the story an extra heft. Isaac’s emotional life as a character is much, much more interesting in this book than in the first two. For the first time, I can see why he’s the POV character in these books, if this was where Hines was planning taking him.
The stakes in this book are also crazy high, and Hines surprised me by not backing down on any of them and not taking the easy way out. The book was fun, yes, but also unexpected, which is always an accomplishment when your readers are so well-versed in the types of stories you want to tell. I thought I had this series (and Hines as an author) pegged, but I was wrong.
Probably the most notable thing about this book and its plot is that what happens in it is going to have far-reaching consequences for the remaining book (books plural if DAW contracts more in the series from him, which I gather is an actual possibility from some comments he’s made on his blog). This book changed the world of the series permanently in a huge, huge way, and the possibilities of how the books will allow us to play in that world as readers are practically endless. I hope I’m not setting myself up for disappointment by saying that.
(Literally my only complaint about this book was that the editor and copy-editors didn’t catch the all but one instances of ‘yeah’ being spelled ‘yah.’ It about drove me up the wall every time I saw it, and completely pulled me out of the story. Since I was really enjoying myself while reading, this was an especially egregious crime. I hope they fix that in future printings, and never again will I have to see that awful non-word in a professionally printed context ever again. Shudder.)