I’ve always loved libraries and I’m instantly drawn to any book with a library in it. The darker and more labyrinthine the better. That’s probably why I love The Name of the Rose, Jorge Luis Borges, The Sandman and the Eyre Affair.
It also explains why I gave this new kid’s book by fantasy up-and-comer Django Wexler a read. And while I enjoyed the tale of 10-year-old Alice as she becomes a magical “Reader”, one who can physically enter books and subdue the monsters within, I also found The Forbidden Library rife with clichés.
After her father mysteriously disappears in a shipwreck, Alice is transported to live with her “uncle” Geryon in his huge, empty mansion in Northwest Pennsylvania. Alice is given the run of the house, but told not to enter the labyrinthine library on the grounds. Shades of The Secret Garden?
Of course Alice disobeys and enters the library, where she meets a boy named Isaac and a talking cat named Ashes. Alice, talking cat – Lewis Carroll anyone? Isaac inadvertently shows her how to enter a book, where she manages to defeat the monster within and discovers her powers as a Reader.
Along the way, Alice learns more secrets about her family and that her father may not quite be dead. Geryon attempts to teach her how to wield her powers, and she runs afoul of his butler, the imposing Mr. Black.
Of course she triumphs in the end, discovering her powers and confronting the creature she believes responsible for her father’s disappearance, but that only opens more questions leading to an inevitable series.
While this book will certainly appeal to fans of Harry Potter or Jasper Fforde’s “Last Dragonslayer” series, it felt a little too YA for my tastes. But any book that sparks interest in libraries, and the secrets they contain, is a winner as far as I’m concerned.