While this is part of one of my favorite ongoing series, this installation was a little meh; 3.75 stars. The problem I think was that this story was focused on too many potential threats, as opposed to one big one. There’s internal problems in the Library (politics and doctrinal differences mostly, but also some likely hidden agenda from an unknown in the upper echelons), Alberich is back (Librarian gone bad final boss type), Irene is still on probation and getting unpleasant job assignments, something’s wrong with Vale, and Zayanna (a Fae lady from the previous story) tracks Irene down for probably nefarious reasons.
Individually, a lot of these pieces are interesting and fun, I did like a little bit more about the Library and other Librarians. This early section of the story gives more information about that part of the world in this series, and that’s rarely a bad thing. Alberich and Irene together trying to outmaneuver each other face to face and with Library magic etc. is a classic charming villain – smart but unsure heroine encounter that was entertaining and suspenseful, although the final fight got a little cliché; it was a chase through a library shouting at each other and trying to force the other into checkmate. This second library was a good twist though, and it’s kind of a pity it won’t be back (probably). The reveal about Alberich’s motives was a little strange, and I wish there was at least a little more info about that. Just dropping that in near the end was a little unsatisfying, even if it does set up Irene with another fact finding mission or two.
I’m not sure if I like the thread with Vale or not, obvious though it kinda was, but I admit I wouldn’t have guessed the Fae possibility. Irene’s spur of the moment solution near the end seems like it might have consequences later, or it might just have been a flash of brilliance/desperation; either way, it bothered me that Irene was willing to essentially override her friend’s freewill for his own good when she’d spent time arguing for letting him choose his own path not long before.
I would have liked to have seen a little more of Irene and Kai as a thief team, not just book-thief Indiana Jones with a dragon as transport out of trouble. It seems like Kai was mostly present to dragon their way out of trouble or to argue. Irene and Kai adventuring together and trying to work together as Librarian and apprentice was part of the original charm of the series, and it’s a shame that gets a little left behind here. Bringing back and explaining Li Ming a little more was a good touch, but the question about an unseen event involving him at the very end was again leaving out too much.
Then there’s Zayanna. It’s been a while since I’ve read The Masked City, so I don’t remember a lot about her and Irene’s initial meeting. That said, I do like her as the untrustworthy friend character. She’s so unapologetic about it, but there’s a charm to her that makes her likable. Irene’s reaction to ‘betrayal’ though was the part that put me off a little. Irene knew Zayanna was Fae and therefore not fully trustworthy, and to view her dishonesty as deep personal betrayal seems a little melodramatic of Irene. They do make up though, and Zayanna makes up for it, although she doesn’t quite seem to understand why. The bad guy realizing she’s really good is usually interesting to see, and it works here.
Overall, it’s still a decent adventure with some clues as to the greater world and conflict, but I think that too many angles and too many little hints left undetailed brought things down a little.