Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Review: The Forbidden Library by Django Wexler

Review: The Forbidden Library by Django Wexler
Release date: April 15th, 2014
Publisher: Kathy Dawson (Penguin)
Series: #1 in the Forbidden Library series
Source: Publisher
Length: 373 pages
Rating: A charming and inventive middle grade fantasy.


The Forbidden Library kicks off a brand new classic fantasy series perfect for fans of Coraline, Inkheart, and The Books of Elsewhere

Alice always thought fairy tales had happy endings. That--along with everything else--changed the day she met her first fairy

When Alice's father goes down in a shipwreck, she is sent to live with her uncle Geryon--an uncle she's never heard of and knows nothing about. He lives in an enormous manor with a massive library that is off-limits to Alice. But then she meets a talking cat. And even for a rule-follower, when a talking cat sneaks you into a forbidden library and introduces you to an arrogant boy who dares you to open a book, it's hard to resist. Especially if you're a reader to begin with. Soon Alice finds herself INSIDE the book, and the only way out is to defeat the creature imprisoned within.

It seems her uncle is more than he says he is. But then so is Alice.

So, I enjoyed that far more than I ever expected to. Not that I expected to dislike it, since the concept is so totally up my alley. It's about the magic and transportative abilities of books, but also the danger and the power. I adore the idea of Readers, powerful and power-hungry humans with the ability to step into books and conquer and corrall the creatures within. I love the idea of a vast, basically endless library full of magic and books and magic nbooks. I love books about books! And this book is, like, a book that's about books that's about books that have other books in them. It's a gigantic love letter/book to books. Which is hard to resist, honestly.

In Alice's world, books have dragons and tree sprites and monsters inside. They're full of beauty and wonder but also peril. It's seriously cool.

But you never know with middle grade if you're no longer a middle grader. But I'm pleased to say that, not only would I have devoured this book as a ten-year-old (a admittedly precocious, voracious-reader ten-year-old), but I thoroughly enjoyed it now as an adult.

I experienced some trepidation at first. The beginning didn't really capture my interest. After a strong first chapter, things get a bit stuck. Alice, a twelve-year-old girl living in early twentieth century New York, goes to live with her "uncle" Geryon after her father is killed in a shipewrek. Ucnle Geryon is an old man with a very strange old house and a vast library in the woods, and we don't get answers about anything for what I think is too long a time.

Once Alice tumbles inside her first book, it becomes an entirely different story (storyception). I became enraptured, and it's a very quick read after that. The magic is both unique and easy to understand, and the writing style is intelligent and funny. It's just the kind of middle grade writing I couldn't get enough of as a kid: very advanced, dry, and ever so slightly old-fashioned. I love middle grade books that are smart, that aren't dumbed down in any way. Our heroine, Alice, is also quite clever. She's plucky and practical and a bit grumpy at times, which makes me adore her.

Ashes and Isaac are particular characters standouts, Isaac being the adorable middle grade love interest, and Ashes being the droll talking cat who is the absolute star of the novel. Seriously, Ashes was giving me Salem flashbacks in the absolute best way. I'm not even going to lie; he made me giggle out loud several times. I just really want a sarcastic talking cat, okay?

The plot is comfortingly straightforward, and yet it still manages to combine betrayals, surprise reveals, plots, and the begnnings of an over-arching magical mystery. I did guess two of the big reveals, but this is a book for people over ten years my junior, so I can't judge too harshly on that. This first volume still only scratches the surface of the world and what Alice's future holds, which may bug some, but I loved the quick pace of this book. We don't get very much information about the core mystery of what happened to Alice's father (though I have THEORIES), but I'm super curious to see what comes next.

I can't speak to the artwork in the book, because most of it was missing from my ARC, but the little that was included isn't preciously my cup of tea. However, the fact that there are illustrations of the more complicated and original monsters in this book is amazing, and I do love the cover.


  1. I thought this one seemed it could be fun, but like you I feel myself kind of expecting "meh". However, your review has me even more curious! And about sarcastic-talking-kitties- have you read Year of Shadows by Legrand? ^^

    1. I have not, but I have a copy of it! Hoping to get to it on the soonish side.

  2. The Forbidden Library sounds pretty darn fun to me! Like you, I love books about books. And middle grade can (occasionally) be my jam. I might just have to check this out, if only for the sarcastic talking cat ;)

  3. A talking cat? Well, this sounds like the kind of middle grade I'd love to check out!
    Thanks for sharing, because I hadn't heard about this one before!

  4. I was super excited to buy the finished copy of this one so that I could see all the rest of the illustrations and then was honestly a bit disappointed. Some of them are so pretty and then some of them look like your average middle-schooler did them :(

    1. I agree. What illustrations I could see in the ARC were pretty hit or miss, mostly miss, though I do quite like the cover.


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