Book Reviews

Librarian

Lenna Faircloth thought she was content enough to be a junior librarian at one of the grandest libraries on the Continent, so long as at the end of the day she can enjoy a glass (or two) of wine and some decent shut-eye. Reticent and unconcerned with trivial matters, Lenna is almost laughably nonplussed the day her childhood friend, Gilbert, appears at her door, asking her to help smuggle stolen goods across national borders. When unfortunate circumstances leave a bizarre, out-of-place artifact in the sole custody of Lenna, she is forced to question her own wants, the source of her withdrawal from others, and how to survive in a world sullied by what she sees as random loss and turmoil - all the while being the target of numerous political factions longing to possess the strange item bound to her by a child’s promise. Librarian is the first part of a young woman’s journey set in an alternate and sparsely-populated world, comprised of four nations and two independent political factions. Between the Krevlum Empire, a militarist country reviving ancient technology to expand its borders, and a shadowy arcane Brotherhood, the librarian finds herself pursued by powerful enemies who would spare nothing to acquire the object of which she would gladly rid herself.

A fantasy adventure with steampunk trappings, Librarian tells the story of the titular librarian, Lenna Faircloth. As we are first introduced to her, she is spilling coffee on herself in an attempt to get to work on time, where she must deal with her misogynistic manager. While this chapter introduces us to the lead character and provides an examination of her mundane (as far as this magical world is concerned) existence, it is a red herring, with little bearing on the overarching narrative. Following this, we are soon introduced to Lenna’s childhood friend, Gilbert and his boyfriend, Luc, who arrive, asking her to transport some goods.

It is here that the story starts moving, where Lenna does her best to do the job while contending with the two of them, which, as these things do, goes completely pear-shaped with unintended consequences. A story that originated in a library blows out into a globetrotting adventure forcing her to look after a magical artefact, discovering the power inside her, learning about her long-deceased mother, and dealing with the mysterious Blue Crescent Brotherhood of mages. It’s a fair amount to pack into the book, but author Brian Fence does so with space to spare.

Upon starting Librarian, I was struck by Fence’s attention to detail, his descriptions of the world and characters who inhabit it. This is a vibrant world with a lot of background detail, and the author has presented a fully-formed world that he has written beautifully. However, at 430 pages in paperback (but apparently only 294 in hardcover, and an estimated 431 pages on Kindle), this is not a short read. There is a lot happening in this story, and the world is clearly drawn. Yet, Librarian still feels overwritten; a more judicious round of editing could have trimmed some fat from the writing, including particular asides, and concentrated the story down to something that moves quicker.

The result is a slow-paced book that, at points, lacks excitement. While the story contained here is thoroughly enjoyable, the pacing let it down for me. The pacing meant that momentum stalls in the story, undercutting that comes with this adventure.

Where the author’s tendency to overwrite slowed the book’s momentum, the characters shine through. Lenna, as Librarian’s protagonist, shines the brightest, thanks to the book being told from her perspective, and the majority of the prose focusing on her exploits. The other characters still feel fleshed out; however, the book is light on dialogue, and relies on the prose to convey much of this. But noting the lack of focus on these characters’ dialogue, Fence has managed to do a great job of making them all feel unique, interesting, and most importantly, entertaining.

In many ways, Librarian feels like a book aimed at young adults, but the characters included are all older, so I am not entirely certain as to whether they are the target audience for the book. I note, though, that the themes throughout are largely inoffensive. I appreciated the feminist ideals promoted throughout the book. This is a book about a woman embarking on an adventure throughout a misogynist society, and the Freewoman tribe included is a great example of empowered women written strongly, without the book trading on their sexuality.

However, given the book’s feminist leanings and its largely inoffensive subject matter, I was disappointed to see a rape threat thrown at Lenna. Also disappointing, was a section of the book commenting that mercenaries accosted townswomen, but in the mercenaries’ defence, those townswomen seemed pleased with the idea of being accosted.

Fans of fantasy will be pleased with the fantastic elements throughout Librarian. The use of magic and its systems work well for the story being told, and it all fits together naturally, in a believable way. I also appreciated Fence’s use of magic as a power that corrupts, with those seeking it to satiate their greed and desire for power. Steampunk aficionados may be disappointed that Librarian doesn’t lean into this very much. It works as set dressing, and fleshes out the world, but it is not a book that I would say leans heavily into the genre.

Librarian is the first book in Fence’s Lenna’s Arc series (time for the obligatory plug: look for my review of the second book, Apprentice, on Wednesday!), so it is worth noting this isn’t a done-in-one adventure. The book doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, but neither does it reach a roaring conclusion. There is definitely more story to be told, which is great, but it did leave me feeling as though I hadn’t read a complete story. While this may work in the larger tapestry (I am writing this in isolation, before I’ve read Apprentice), I was disappointed by this.

Despite its lowkey ending and feeling and feeling that the book would have benefitted from some cuts, Librarian is an entertaining read. If you’re a fan of YA-styled fantasy adventures, globetrotting adventures, there is a lot to enjoy, including some great characters, a fun adventure and some beautifully written prose.

Favourite Passage

As the day drew on, Lenna became increasingly convinced that her nose, assaulted by dust, would rip itself from her face and get lost in the clutter of the Back Room. From the sheer multitude of sneezes that erupted, she knew that her relationship with her nose would never be the same. Everything has changed, it seemed to say to her, in a grievous tone. Lenna eventually learned that being alone in a poorly lit storeroom in the corner of a basement of a very old building was not a very good test of one’s mental stability. Who converses with their nose?

Librarian, Chapter Two

Librarian was provided by the author for the purpose of an honest review.

Librarian is available in paperback and hardcover from retailers, including—but not limited to—Amazon, and Kindle, exclusive to Amazon.

You can follow Brian Fence online, via:

Note: I do not post scores on reviews on this website, but do post them on my Amazon and Goodreads reviews:

Interested in purchasing Librarian?

Why not get it from Amazon, via the handy link below? Please note, not only will you be supporting the author, you may also be supporting me by way of a small commission from any items purchased (and no, it won’t cost you anything extra!).

Librarian (Lenna’s Arc Book 1)

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