Monday, March 14, 2011

Review: Libyrinth by Pearl North

Cover of Libyrinth shows a young woman standing with her eyes closed as loose pages fall around her
Title: Libyrinth
Author: Pearl North
Series: Libyrinth 1
Grade: DNF

The Libyrinth is a giant library left from the time of the Ancients.  The Libyrarians study this vast store of knowledge and try to protect the books from the Eradicants, who despise the written word.  Haly is a young clerk in the Libyrinth who can hear the books speaking their words out loud, though no one else can.  When Haly's talents uncovers a plot that could save or doom the Libyrinth, she, her best friend and her teacher must leave their home behind and set out on a quest to retrieve the last known original book of the Ancients.

This is a Did Not Finish review.  I read to page 76 of 321, about 24%.

This book had such promise!  Okay, yeah, the young orphan with an unknown talent and hardly any friends is a fairly Mary Sue type character.  And I wanted to learn more about Haly's gift and if it interferes with her reading and writing.  And the Libyrinth was more library than labyrinth.  And there was hardly any information given on what imps are, which was poor world-building.  And Nod and his fellow imp saved Haly's and Claudia's lives but then were forgotten and left behind by both of them without a single thought spared for their fates, making them both fairly callous people.

But it had potential!  Librarians versus book burners as the main conflict.  There just aren't enough librarian protagonists.  I saw some hints that the Eradicants have an oral culture, which would be amazing to see how the conflict between oral tradition and written word worked out.  And Haly can hear the books no matter what language they're written in, which has amazing potential for translations and leaping ahead in intercultural communications.  Haly and Clauda have a firm friendship, as do Haly and Selene.  Did I mention the heroine is biracial and her mentor is dark-skinned?  And it passes the Bechdel Test about eleven bajillionity times?

There were some hints of class tensions all along.  This is what I have written in my reading notes: "Class tensions, libyrarians and servants".  So it was present, but it was subtle.  A kitchen worker says to Haly that he doesn't care who her parents were; Clauda feels embarrassed when a Libyrarian serves her instead of the other way around.  I was impressed!  Till page 76, when the author picks up an oak board labeled CLASS TENSIONS and hammers you across the back of the head with it.

Haly has been captured by the book burners, tortured, bound, and threatened with death if she tries to escape.  Then she is taken to a local village and fed.

As she shoveled buttered oats into her mouth, Vinnais turned and eyed her.  "You don't mind taking what they have to offer, then, even if you Libyrarians won't share your knowledge with them," he observed.
Haly blinked.  She'd never even considered that before.  Clearly the Eradicants, who possessed knowledge only dreamed of by the Libyrarians, shared it freely with the common folk. (p. 76)

Wait, what?  No!  *sound of book hitting wall*  Alright, let's count the problems here.

First of all, she's a prisoner.  She's not taking anything from the common folks.  Her kidnappers are keeping her alive while they transport her to trial for witchcraft.  Vinnais frames her as a parasite, but she's a victim.  Huge difference.  Even these commoners have slapped her and called her a witch, so she has no reason to feel gratitude to them.  Since they're preventing her from feeding herself, not feeding her would be murder.  You don't get praised for not murdering people; it's expected.

Secondly, Libyrarians do share their knowledge with other people.

Until now, the city-states of Thesia and Ilysies had protected the Libyrinth from the Eradicants, had sold them food in exchange for information, and generally supported them. (p. 17)

Let me reiterate: "had sold them food in exchange for information".  So unless Vinnais is arguing that all information should be free (in which case how are the librarians supposed to eat?), he's lying about what they do.  And Haly believes him.  Despite telling the reader otherwise in the first chapter.  *facepalm*

Third, the Eradicants are her people's arch-nemeses.  Her whole life she's heard how evil they are.  They've been burning books that Haly has faith in, silencing voices only she can hear.  Not to mention they tortured her best friend right in front of her and tortured her as well.  She ought to reject everything they say on principle.  There's no psychological reason for her to listen to their words.

Fourth, the Eradicants burn books!  They literally burn books, every book they can find (except possibly one, but ∞-1 isn't terribly better than ∞).  How the hell do they possess all this knowledge that Libyrarians "can only dream of"?  Oral tradition is all fine and dandy, but the librarians have been studying a vast maze of the Ancients' books.  A library can hold a hell of a lot more knowledge than a human skull.  And let's not forget about the Eradicants' belief in witchcraft, an accusation that suppresses knowledge (as in the case of real world healers and midwives in the medieval ages).  To gain scientific knowledge you need a certain amount of flexibility - the ability to admit you might be wrong.  That's entirely antithetical to religious fanaticism.

And my favorite part, the Eradicants share this knowledge freely?  Really?  Just one page before, Haly reflects on how they use that knowledge to control the people and indoctrinate them into worship.

By making the inoculation a baptism rite, the Eradicants ensure that these simple people would become ardent followers of their cult. (p. 75)

The whole thing wouldn't bother me at all if it was just Vinnais saying this - villains should think of themselves as in the right or they wouldn't be committing their crimes in the first place - but why the hell does Haly agree with him?  She has absolutely no reason to, from logical or emotional or psychological standpoints.  She so readily dismisses her entire existence and everything she's ever learned about Eradicants in the space of a single page?  Either she's TSTL or the most god-awful Mary Sue, but I'm not sticking around to find out.

The next book in the series is The Boy from Ilysies, available now.

For a Too Stupid To Live heroine and completely defying its own worldbuilding, I give Libyrinth a DNF.


  1. SO far I've enjoyed this book though it has its nuances and is heavily flawed. It has SO MUCH potential and I feel that the author was on the cliff, the tip of greatness but she didn't push it far enough. She was so close! The mixed race characters are a plus, their open sexualities are also a great asset. It shows human diversity as a thing rather than a social construction. Well, sort of. Now I've confused myself.

    1. Yes, I felt the book had good seeds but contradicted itself multiple times.


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