Book review: “Codex Born” by Jim C. Hines

codex born coverAfter 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:

jimchines reply

Book review: “Libriomancer” by Jim Hines (spoilers ahoy!)

It’s not often that a book makes me laugh out loud, but there’s something about Jim C. Hines’ Libriomancer that got me from the beginning. The official description:

Isaac Vainio is a Libriomancer, a member of the secret organization founded five centuries ago by Johannes Gutenberg. Libriomancers are gifted with the ability to magically reach into books and draw forth objects. When Isaac is attacked by vampires that leaked from the pages of books into our world, he barely manages to escape. To his horror, he discovers that vampires have been attacking other magic-users as well, and Gutenberg has been kidnapped.

With the help of a motorcycle-riding dryad who packs a pair of oak cudgels, Isaac finds himself hunting the unknown dark power that has been manipulating humans and vampires alike. And his search will uncover dangerous secrets about Libriomancy, Gutenberg, and the history of magic.

At its heart, Libriomancer is a love letter to every bookworm who ever imagined reaching into their favorite book and becoming part of the story. It’s funny, sad, and exciting all at once.

My overall rating: 4.5/5 stars.


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Book review: “Dark Frost” by Jennifer Estep

Dark Frost is the third book in the Mythos Academy series by Jennifer Estep (my reviews of the first two books are over here). The series follows the adventures of Gwen Frost as she struggles with her destiny as Nike’s chosen Champion, fights against the forces of Chaos, and deals with the never-ending drama that is high school.

The official book description:

I’ve seen so many freaky things since I started attending Mythos Academy last fall. I know I’m supposed to be a fearless warrior, but most of the time, I feel like I’m just waiting for the next Bad, Bad Thing to happen. Like someone trying to kill me–again.

Everyone at Mythos Academy knows me as Gwen Frost, the Gypsy girl who uses her psychometry magic to find lost objects–and who just may be dating Logan Quinn, the hottest guy in school. But I’m also the girl the Reapers of Chaos want dead in the worst way. The Reapers are the baddest of the bad, the people who murdered my mom. So why do they have it in for me? It turns out my mom hid a powerful artifact called the Helheim Dagger before she died. Now, the Reapers will do anything to get it back. They think I know where the dagger is hidden, but this is one thing I can’t use my magic to find. All I do know is that the Reapers are coming for me–and I’m in for the fight of my life.

“Dark Frost” picks up a few weeks after ” Kiss of Frost” ends, with Gwen, Daphne, Carson, and Logan visiting a museum to finish homework they were supposed to do over Christmas. Aside from weapons, armor, and artifacts, they find themselves at the center of a Reaper attack headed by Loki’s Champion.

The good:

  • The museum and the battle in the museum. I’m a mythology nut so I enjoyed the descriptions of the artifacts on display.
  • The showdown between Gwen, Loki’s Champion, and *****. It saved the book and showed just how badass Gwen could be. She has so much potential!
  • Logan and Daphne being the kick-ass people that they are.

The horrible:

  • Gwen’s entire quest to find the Helheim Dagger. Seriously? It took her that long to figure out where the dagger was hidden?
  • Gwen being surprised with who Loki’s Champion turned out to be. I figured it out the moment the character was introduced.
  • Gwen not realizing how Loki’s Champion was playing her.
  • Gwen being an overemotional idiot over Logan. She must have spent at least half the book moaning about how she couldn’t be with Logan because of her magic. This is the girl who’s supposed to save the world?

The annoying:

  • The reveal about Nickamedes. So. Typical.
  • The author’s continuous use and reuse of the same adjectives.
  • The author’s constant shifting between referring to people by their name or their warrior type. This wouldn’t be annoying if the book weren’t written in Gwen’s voice. Why would Gwen’s inner voice refer to Daphne as “the Valkyrie” after they became best friends? It would be like Harry referring to Hermione as “the Gryffindor”. It doesn’t make sense.

Overall score: 3 out of 5 stars. It’s an improvement over the first two books but not by much. I’m still hoping that it’ll get better with “Crimson Frost”.

Book reviews: “Touch of Frost” and “Kiss of Frost” by Jennifer Estep

I’m not a fan of the young adult paranormal romance genre but I decided to give Jennifer Estep’s Mythos Academy series a try because 1) someone lent it to me, 2) I was bored, and 3) I wanted something light and fast to read.

The official series description:
Gwen Frost is an outsider at Mythos Academy, a school of myths, magic and warrior whiz kids, where even the lowliest geek knows how to chop off somebody’s head with a sword. Gwen is an outsider both to the students of the Academy and the rest of the world. But when her gift of psychometry – the ability to know an object’s history just by touching it reveals dark undercurrents and danger afoot, she has no choice but to get involved.

Book 1: Touch of Frost

Gwen Frost is the new girl at Mythos Academy, a boarding school in North Carolina where the children of mythological warriors – Vikings, Valkyries, Spartans, Celtic warrior bards, samurais (?!) and ninjas (?!) – go to school. The kids are here to learn how to fight and stand against the forces of Loki, who wants to plunge the world into Chaos. The funny thing is she’s not a warrior. She’s a Gypsy with the gift of psychometry, the “ability to know an object’s history just by touching it”. Because she’s a Gypsy and is *gasp!* middle class, the hoity-toity rich kids of Mythos consider her as invisible. Gwen’s accepted her background status until Mythos Queen Bee Jasmine Ashton is brutally murdered and an important Artifact is stolen. Gwen is the only one who thinks there’s more to Jasmine’s murder than meets the eye and so starts poking around. Unfortunately, poking your nose into where it doesn’t belong in a place like Mythos is definitely not a good idea.

What I liked:

  • The mythology-brought-to-the-modern-world scenario, similar to what Rick Riordan has done
  • The supporting characters: Logan Quinn (the Spartan bad boy/Love Interest), Daphne Cruz (the Valkyrie princess who eventually becomes Gwen’s best friend), and Carson Callahan (Celtic warrior bard and band geek)
  • The touch of teenage reality – sex, alcohol, and rule-breaking in a boarding school.
  • The Nancy Drew aspect – skulking around, discovering things.
  • It was exactly what I thought it would be – fast, light, and slightly brainless. On second thought, is this a good thing?

What I didn’t like:

  • Gwen. There were several instances at the start of the book that I just wanted to smack her.
  • The telling, not showing. Important information that Gwen needs to know is constantly told to her by the teachers, Daphne, and the villain *facepalm*
  • The constant emphasizing of the kids having designer clothes and purses, expensive cars, and jewelry. I get it, these kids are rich. No need to tell me every other page.
  • Samurais and ninjas included as “mythological warriors”. Really? REALLY? They were warriors, sure. But they were never warriors in the service of a particular god.

Overall score: 2/5 stars. Touch of Frost gave me enough reason to read Book 2, Kiss of Frost.

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