The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

December 11, 2009

JPL review: ‘Libyrinth’ a well-written book about another world’s library

Libyrinth by Pearl North

True confession: Since I earned my degree to become a librarian, the mere mention of libraries in a book, no matter how brief, makes me giddy with excitement — as if the author mentioned the library just for me.

So, when I saw Libyrinth and read the jacket, I had to read it. I mean, there’s a whole civilization built around a library, librarians and the people who want to destroy the library! Giddiness ensued.

Libyrinth is set in a non-Earth world where the two major learned societies are in conflict. The Libyrarians believe in the importance of the written word and that they must preserve all books while the Singers believe that words are sacred, but once written down are dead and that they must burn all books in order to release the words written in them.

Because the Libyrinth relies on others in order to exist and the Singers are a formidable foe, the Libyrarians have struck a deal with the Singers: Each year, the Libyrarians allow the singers to burn a select number of books in exchange for the Singers’ promise that they won’t destroy the entire Libyrinth.

This arrangement, though painful for the Libyrarians, worked out well until Haly, a Libyrinth clerk who can hear written words as if they are spoken to her, discovers the Singers’ plot to find The Book of the Night — the book that contains all the secrets of the Ancients.

Fearing that the Singers will destroy the book, Haly, her friend Clauda and Selene, the Libyrarian Haly serves, flee the Libyrinth to find the book first. When Haly is captured by the Singers, she and her friends embark on an adventure to save the book and the Libyrinth.

For the most part, the giddiness I felt after reading the book jacket was sustained. Through alternating points of view, Haly and Clauda are well developed and quite likable. Their difficult decisions are realistic and they are both clever and resourceful.

North does a good job of making readers understand the viewpoint of the Singers and resists the temptation of making them a mindless and evil society of book burners. North even sprinkles a budding romance in the mix for good measure.

The book was not without distraction, however. The action scenes are great and begin early on, but the pace gets slowed down by world building and in-depth explanations of the world’s various religions and philosophies.

Most distracting for me is that North fails to explain how a non-Earth world can have books like Charlotte’s Web and The Diary of Anne Frank in it. Are the Ancients people from Earth who brought a vast number of books with them?

According to the “About the Author” page, North plans Libyrinth to be the first in a trilogy, so maybe some of these distractions will be dealt with in the second installment. All-in-all, though, it’s a solid read for patient fantasy lovers and nerdy librarians.