Synopsis: A librarian with a mysterious past, a war hero with a secret, and the heist of a magic painting. THE LIBRARIAN OF CROOKED LANE is an intriguing new fantasy from C.J. Archer, the USA Today bestselling author of the Glass and Steele series.
Librarian Sylvia Ashe knows nothing about her past, having grown up without a father and a mother who refused to discuss him. When she stumbles upon a diary that suggests she’s descended from magicians, she’s skeptical. After all, magicians are special, and she’s just an ordinary girl who loves books. She seeks the truth from a member of the most prominent family of magicians, but she quickly learns that finding the truth won’t be easy, especially when he turns out to be as artless as her, and more compelling and dangerous than books.
War hero Gabe is gifted with wealth, a loving family, and an incredible amount of luck that saw him survive four harrowing years of a brutal war without injury. But not all injuries are visible. Burying himself in his work as a consultant for Scotland Yard, Gabe is going through the motions as he investigates the theft of a magician-made painting. But his life changes when he unwittingly gets Sylvia dismissed from her job and places her in danger.
After securing her new employment in a library housing the world’s greatest collection of books about magic, Gabe and Sylvia’s lives become intwined as they work together to find both the painting and the truth about Sylvia’s past before powerful people can stop them.
But sometimes the past is better left buried…
As a fan of historical fiction for many years, I never thought a historical fantasy would be possible. In fact, the first WIP I ever attempted was such a tale, combining Pennsylvania history with a mysterious, magical element. I shelved it because 1: I felt it was too huge a project for a new writer and 2: there didn’t seem to be a market for it in 2016. Now it’s 2023, and I now know there absolutely is a market for such tales. I only wish I’d stuck with it longer!
I think that the combination of actual history and fantasy is what drew me to this subgenre, and CJ Archer’s The Glass Library series gives me hope for all my shelved WIPs! Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, here. I still haven’t fully read the book at the time I’m typing this part of the review. So give me a moment or two to read and gather my thoughts. … Okay, I’m finished. Let’s discuss!
In my last book review on BELLE HAVEN, I never really got into the story. It’s always sad when a book refuses to hook me within its first few pages. Luckily, this was not the case for THE LIBRARIAN OF CROOKED LANE. It takes place during real history, despite its magical elements, and I was immediately reminded of Studio Ghibli’s film, Howl’s Moving Castle. Which isn’t a bad thing at all! In fact, I have to wonder if Ms. Archer was somewhat inspired by it. This story does deal with some tough topics, but they are woven nicely into the tale as a whole. In a way that makes sense. From here, let’s take a look at the characters, the writing and the magical element.
In a publishing world where everyone thinks more than one POV is better, THE LIBRARIAN OF CROOKED LANE is told through one. I cannot imagine The Glass Library series with more than one, as too much “bouncing between characters” can make grounding a reader difficult. The fact that it’s told solely through Sylvia’s eyes is what I found the most refreshing. As for character tropes, there is no “instalove” between the h and H, which I also appreciated. It kept the story from turning into a romance. There is some attraction; just because there’s a h and H, that doesn’t mean they have to become love interests. There’s a comfortable formality between the two, with secrets added to the mix. Both Sylvia and the male lead, Gabe, are equally rounded characters. They don’t do anything without purpose behind it, with some guffaws – naturally!
Set in the 1920s, there are many historical mentions peppered throughout the story: Arthur Conan Doyle, for one. The author mentions familiar London things: streets, places, society, Scotland Yard. While very well written, the story did seem to drag a little in places, and I felt there could’ve been a little more “damsel in distress.” This also isn’t a “coming of age, congratulations – you now have magic!” story; all characters are already adults. One could argue that Ms. Archer misnamed the aforementioned author: Conan Doyle. While he is more commonly known as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, it seems there is no right way to say it (according to his Wikipedia page). Let’s not mind my nitpicky moment here and move on to the magic.
There are magic folk and non-magical folk, just like in many fantasy stories. In The Glass Library’s world, non-magic folks are called “artless,” a term much like “Muggle” in Harry Potter. However, there isn’t any animosity between magicians and non-magic folks in this world. The magic in this novel series is more object based rather than elemental; Ink, Iron, Silver, Watchmaker, Leather, Cotton, Cooking, Rubber. Craft magic. I like how magic is known, not secret, and it isn’t overly done with too many layers – a trap high fantasy sometimes falls into. While magic is certainly a main element to the story, I felt it could’ve taken center stage. However, there IS a Book 2 coming in March 2023. Perhaps that’s when it’ll come forward?
Trigger warnings: war, cocaine
With two mysteries rolled into one, THE LIBRARIAN OF CROOKED LANE is a 1920s historical fantasy with many elements grounded in reality. It isn’t high fantasy, yet the magic is there, festering in the background. I was hooked from the first few pages, because Sylvia is a well rounded, realistic main character. For the first time in a long while, I will happily give THE LIBRARIAN OF CROOKED LANE 5 out of 5 stars.