Goodreads: The Forbidden Library
Series: The Forbidden Library #1
Published: April 15, 2014
Alice always thought fairy tales had happy endings. That–along with everything else–changed the day she met her first fairy.
When Alice’s father goes down in a shipwreck, she is sent to live with her uncle Geryon–an uncle she’s never heard of and knows nothing about. He lives in an enormous manor with a massive library that is off-limits to Alice. But then she meets a talking cat. And even for a rule-follower, when a talking cat sneaks you into a forbidden library and introduces you to an arrogant boy who dares you to open a book, it’s hard to resist. Especially if you’re a reader to begin with. Soon Alice finds herself INSIDE the book, and the only way out is to defeat the creature imprisoned within.
It seems her uncle is more than he says he is. But then so is Alice.
The Forbidden Library has the right idea to appeal to voracious young readers. Alice Creighton is sent to live with a mysterious uncle with a mysterious library she is forbidden to enter alone—an admonition she is given, it turns out, because she is a Reader, someone who can insert herself into certain magical books. As a bibliophile, I expected to fall unreservedly in love with The Forbidden Library. I mean, it even has talking cats. However, while all the right elements are present, they never really add up to a an amazing, unforgettable book. I think part of the problem is a lack of spirit, and part is a lack of purpose.
To begin, none of the characters are particularly likable. Alice is probably the best of the lot. She is undoubtedly brave and unquestionably clever. However, she is also arrogant and obsessed with her image as a goody-two-shoes (even when she is not being one at all). Mostly, however, she lacks a real personality. Beyond reading, I have no idea what her interests are, and she never actually reads anything anyway (excluding magical Reading).
The other characters, nonetheless, manage to give her a run for her money in terms of arrogance. Even the talking cat is a bit of a disappointment, not being particularly cat-like in personality (though, to be fair, he does emphasize he is only half cat). Likable characters are hardly a necessity in literature, but The Forbidden Library is a children’s fantasy, not a pessimistic slice of life book, so I really would have liked to be able to care and root for one of the characters.
In spite of this, one can hardly dispute that the characters are interesting, and their adventures are even wilder. Alice and company enter a variety of books that each feature unique and richly imagined fantasy worlds. Readers will easily be able to get lost in the landscapes and the action. This, the world-building, is where the author most shines, and his experience as a fantasy writer is most evident.
I just wish all of it had more of a purpose. The book is based on the premise that magic-wielders named Readers can enter certain books, defeat creatures there, and then acquire the powers of those creatures as their own. So, a Reader who defeats a fire fairy might thereafter be able to shoot flames at his or her enemies. However, it is unclear why the Readers do this, beyond the simple fact that they can. The basic explanation is that Readers are a very small group who constantly engage in petty quarrels among themselves and use their magic only to show each other up. This is, frankly, pointless. It is very difficult to feel invested in a magical community that might as well not be using magic at all. I really hope the overarching series plotline deals with this issue.
Finally, the writing in The Forbidden Library sounds stilted, as if the author (who, in fact, has only published books for adults before this) has not quite figured out how to write naturally for children. At best, the writing sounds very young, which should not really be the case either for something I would consider upper middle grade.
The Forbidden Library, I think, will definitely find its audience. It is a very solid middle grade fantasy adventure, and readers will love becoming immersed in fantastical books along with Alice. It simply is not the right book for me.