This review was written by [personal profile] tool_of_satan, who kindly offered to guest-blog as I got so swamped in schoolwork that I haven't had time to read either of the month's book selections yet. (I have four papers due on Monday, in Law and Ethics, Process, Personality, and Trauma, and have written only one of them - the shortest.) Thank you very much, [personal profile] tool_of_satan!

Libyrinth is the first young-adult novel published by Pearl North, but she has written other fiction as Anne Harris (none of which I have read). It opens in the eponymous Libyrinth, which is a giant labyrinth filled with books. Which I have to admit is a winning combination. Labyrinth? Books? Sign me up.

Our initial viewpoint character is Haly, a sort of assistant librarian (sorry, "Libyrarian"). Like most of the inhabitants she was born and raised in the Libyrinth. Unlike most of them she is an orphan, her parents having vanished in the stacks when she was very young, and unlike any of them the books speak to her. No, really: if she's near a book she hears it narrating itself in her head, at least when the author finds it convenient (to be fair, there are only a few spots where she is inconsistent about this). All of the books she hears are English-language works we are all familiar with, except for a book written by the Libyrinth founder which provides useful information when the author feels like it.

Haly is in a bad mood because the Eradicants are making their annual visit. The Eradicants venerate the spoken word and regard printed words as dead and therefore evil. They haven't been able to conquer the Libyrinth, but they get to show up once a year to burn some books, chant, and get fed. During all this grim foofaraw we get introduced to Selene, the librarian Haly assists, and Clauda, a kitchen worker who is Haly's best friend. No points for deducing that the three of them will shortly be off on an adventure. And so it happens: within a few pages we find out that Selene has discovered the location of The Book of the Night (which contains the secret of how to make the tiny, near-inexhaustible power sources that run all the advanced machinery), Selene tells this to the head librarian, the head librarian sells this secret to the Eradicants to save his nephew (who runs a city they have conveniently just conquered), and our three protagonists ride out to get the book first and save civilization, or at least literature.

The early part of the book continues at this breakneck pace up until the three women find the book (in a sort of branch Libyrinth), discover it's written in an unknown language, then get attacked by Eradicants and separated. I think the pace is responsible for the problems some people have reported getting into the book. I had problems myself. Starting a book with plenty of action is fine, but it's necessary to get the reader interested in the situation and the characters at the same time. This requires maybe a bit more skill than the author has. A few pages to establish the characters in the normal life of of the Libyrinth, before the main plot really kicks in, might have sufficed.

In any case things calm down a bit once the characters are separated. Haly is captured by the Eradicants and hauled off to their citadel, where she is treated well once they realize that her ability to hear books means she is their prophesied Chosen One who will bring balance to the Force make the dead words live again. Exactly what that means is, as usual with prophecies, open to interpretation. Haly manages to convince some of the key figures that it's now OK to learn to read (conveniently, she has a book, confiscated from secret Eradicant readers). She also does some thinking about the difference between the Libyrarians, who spend all their time studying books and let few other people have any, and the Eradicants, who spend lots of time developing teaching songs to help the local peasantry.

Haly's sections are handled reasonably well (barring logical inconsistencies which I go into below). One could certainly argue that the Eradicants she talks to come around too easily, but based on my admittedly limited knowledge, it's actually fairly realistic; people seeing a miracle (i.e., Haly being able to tell them what a book in a locked box says) which their religion has prophesied are going to be in a state where they're vulnerable to epiphany conversions.

Meanwhile, Clauda and Selene escape and go to Selene's home Greek-flavored city-state, which is ruled by her mother. Selene's mother (who has chosen another woman as heir) schemes to gain power for herself, but Clauda manages to steal her magical ancient flying craft from its cave and show up at the climactic battle in front of the Libyrinth. The Eradicants (with Haly in tow) attack the Libyrinth and there is much shooting, but in the end Haly manages to achieve an entente; she convinces all the leading Eradicants they need to learn how to read, and the Libyrarians that they should help the people instead of sitting around the stacks all day. I am glossing over lots of detail here.

You may be wondering, since this was a book club selection for an LBGTQ month, where the LBGTQ content is. I was wondering the same thing for much of the book. The content is limited to one or two paragraphs in the middle: Clauda sees a naked girl and thinks about how nice it is that in the Libyrinth, no one cares that she is attracted to girls. That's it except for some hand-holding which is not necessarily meaningful. Well, and the soldiers in the city-state are all women and one can make certain assumptions, but we're not told or shown anything.

I am of two minds about the perfunctoriness of this. On the one hand, the book is not particularly about sex or relationships. There is nothing wrong with having an adventure novel where one of the viewpoint characters just happens to be a lesbian. Furthermore, she is young (15 or 16) and spends a lot of the book not feeling very well. On the other hand, the straight viewpoint character at least gets to kiss a boy. An attempt at equity would possibly have been better.

My major problem with the book was not this, but the fact that the background makes no sense. Which would be less of a problem if the background didn't drive some of the major plot elements.

Cut for lengthy nit-picking )

On the plus side, the prose is decent if not exceptional, and after the early part North keeps things reasonably interesting. If she spends more time working out the logic of her plots she might produce something I can recommend unreservedly in the future. (There is a sequel to this, but I haven't read it.)
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