After only a year of waiting, I finally got Codex Born by Jim C. Hines in my grubby hands! Codex Born is the second book in the Magic Ex Libris series and the sequel to Libriomancer. If you haven’t read Libriomancer, I highly suggest that you do so before reading Codex Born. Codex Born jumps right into the action with minimal worldbuilding exposition since all that was taken care of in the previous book. But if you insist on reading Codex Born anyway, here are some things you need to know:
- Isaac Vainio is a libriomancer – an individual gifted with the magical ability to pull stuff out of books. When he’s not trying to save the world, he works as a librarian.
- Lena Greenwood is a seriously ass-kicking dryad in a relationship with Isaac.
- Dr. Nidhi Shah is a therapist for the Porters. She’s in a relationship with Lena.
- The Porters are an organization formed by Johannes Gutenberg. They exist to protect the world from magic, expand their knowledge of magic, and to preserve the secrecy of magic.
So what’s in Codex Born? The summary from the book jacket:
Isaac Vainio’s life is just about perfect. He should know it can’t last.
Living and working as a part-time librarian in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Isaac has finally earned the magical research position he has dreamed of with Die Zwelf Portenaere, better known as the Porters. He is seeing a smart, fun, gorgeous dryad named Lena Greenwood. He has been cleared by Johannes Gutenberg to practice libriomancy once again, reaching into books to create whatever he chooses from their pages. Best of all, it has been more than two months since anything tried to kill him.
And then Isaac, Lena, Porter psychiatrist Nidhi Shah are called to the small mining town of Tamarack, Michigan, where a pair of septuagenarian werewolves have discovered the body of a brutally murdered wendigo.
What begins as a simple monster-slaying leads to deeper mysteries and the discovery of an organization thought to have been wiped out more than five centuries ago by Gutenberg himself. Their magic rips through Isaac’s with ease, and their next target is Lena Greenwood.
They know Lena’s history, her strengths and weaknesses. Born decades ago from the pages of a pulp fantasy novel, her powers are unique, and Gutenberg’s enemies mean to use her to destroy everything he and the Porters have built. But their plan could unleash a darker power, an army of entry of chaos, bent on devouring all it touches.
The Upper Peninsula is about to become ground zero in a magical war like nothing the world has seen in over five hundred years. But the more Isaac learns about Gutenberg and the Porters, the more he questions whether he’s fighting for the right cause.
One way or another, Isaac must find the means to stop a power he doesn’t fully understand. And even if he succeeds, the outcome with forever change him, the Porters, and the whole world.
A note about the jacket blurb: While we do discover new things about Lena and see her develop as her own person, this is still very much Isaac’s book. The blurb makes it sound like Lena takes over the story but she doesn’t.
What I loved about Codex Born:
The action never stops! Codex Born starts off a few months after Libriomancer, basically as everything is finally starting to settle down after the events in Libriomancer. Once the ball gets rolling with the wendigo murder in Tamarack, Isaac, Lena, and Nidhi have to deal with a megalomaniac father, another secret society, and their plans to destroy the Porters. They pick up some unexpected allies and frenemies too.
Less exposition! I didn’t like the massive info dumps in Libriomancer but thought them necessary since it was the first book. Since this is the second one, Hines doesn’t need the massive blocks of dialogue anymore so the story moves at a faster pace.
More information about and character development for Lena. Each chapter starts off with a small snippet of Lena’s past, starting from when she first emerged from her tree and met the farmer Frank Dearing. Time and time again, Lena proves that she’s a person and not just a construction from a book. While her sensuality is part of her, it does not define her.
New characters that felt right. We get Jeneta, a teenager who loosed a snake from Harry Potter through her smartphone, plus the werewolves Jeff and Helen.
We get a great menagerie of villains – some more human and relatable, some just utterly despicable.
The Isaac-Lena-Nidhi triangle still weirds me out, so I’m glad that the characters themselves are weirded out too. It would have been really strange for them to just accept the situation without batting an eye so it’s nice to see their internal conflicts regarding their arrangement.
Books, books, and more books! Isaac casually mentions science fiction and fantasy books left and right, some I’ve read but even more that I haven’t. He makes me want to read them all, just so that I can understand what he’s pulling out of them. It’s total book-wank and I love it!
Things that confused me/made me feel iffy about Codex Born:
Hines addressed the ebook issue somewhat but I’m not sure I like how he explained it. All of the libriomancy rules set up in Libriomancer made sense, but then Jeneta and the ebook come along and change everything. Jeneta pulled a snake out of a supposedly locked Harry Potter book via her smartphone. Does this mean that ebook Harry Potter doesn’t count as a “real book”? Is the locking format-specific? If so, then Gutenberg will have to lock all print, epub, azw, mobi, pdf, and other formats. The ebook loophole made libriomancy less magical, if that makes any sense at all. Hines doesn’t have a real explanation for it just yet – Isaac is still figuring it out, after all – so I shall reserve final judgment until he does. But for now, I’m iffy about it.
The twists and turns in the plot made me dizzy. Haha. This isn’t an actual complaint but the book now requires an immediate re-read because of the twists.
Overall verdict: 4.75 out of 5 stars.
Codex Born is a worthy sequel and the perfect bridge book for the next one in the series. I’m not sure if Hines has mentioned how many books the series will be but I’m hoping Magic Ex Libris will continue for a good long while.
Oh, and something that made me happy: