February 8, 2014

Review: "Codex Born," by Jim C. Hines

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I've subscribed to Jim Hines' Livejournal for years, and found his posts to be thoughtful and interesting. I love his battles against sexual harassment and rape culture, and have laughed out loud at his mock-copying of ridiculous urban fantasy book covers.

Up until now, however, I've never read any of his books. That lack has now been rectified.

This book is the second book in the Magic Ex Libris series. I haven't yet read the first book, Libriomancer, but this isn't a problem, as Hines does an excellent job of hinting just enough at previous events (without infodumping) that I didn't feel deprived.  

This book is just so much fun. Its central conceit, that its magic users can literally pull weapons and other things (not huge things--you're limited by object and page size) from the pages of widely read books, is one of the most unique magic systems I've ever run across. Hines' world is a delight to readers and book nerds everywhere,     because it hints that all those imagined written worlds we love really exist, that somewhere Frodo is still trudging towards Mount Doom and Alice is still falling down the rabbit hole, and all it takes is just a little magical talent and training for you and me to do the same thing. Most of the books referenced here exist in the real world, and it makes me do a happy dance to imagine that something I have in my own library is being used to fight bad guys. 

Hines' characterizations were also excellent, in particular his heroine Lena Greenwood, a "heavyset" bisexual woman of color. (Which is not really reflected in the book's cover, unfortunately, but that was apparently the best the cover artist could do.) His characters are satisfyingly diverse, as are their relationships--the protagonist, Isaac Vainio, is dating Lena Greenwood, who is also in a relationship with a woman, Nidhi Shah. 

What impressed me the most about this book, however, is its pacing. Isaac and his companions gradually get into more and more trouble, the stakes get higher and higher, and the tension is expertly ratcheted up to the explosive climax. It's just wonderfully done, and I hope someday Jim Hines gifts us with a writing how-to book. 

In the meantime, I'll go in search of Jim Hines' other books, and you should do the same. 

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