Django Wexler’s first book for younger readers is a treat indeed. The Forbidden Library is full of imagination, strange goings-on, and even stranger characters. I enjoyed the story very much and raced through it eager to know all about the intriguing world Wexler has created.
The story starts with Alice Creighton, a bookish rule-abiding young girl, overhearing a conversation between her father and an unpleasant sounding visitor. It’s when she peeks through the door that things become very weird – the creature talking to her dad is a fairy. Unfortunately it’s not the delicate, beautiful wish-granting kind. It’s the scary, threatening, poisonous-looking type. Not long after this unwelcome visit, Mr Creighton leaves for a trip on a ship that is lost at sea. Before she knows it Alice is sent to live with an uncle she never knew she had.
Her arrival at Uncle Geryon’s house is not likely to put poor Alice at ease. Geryon seems nice enough if a bit odd, but he’s helped around the house by an odious brute of a man, Mr Black, and Emma the maid, who is somehow empty of personality. It’s a big old house with a separate and enormous library, which should be a huge bonus except Alice is not allowed to go there unaccompanied. And this is one rule that she ought not to break, but Alice needs to find out what has happened to her father and the answers just might be inside the library.
The library itself is a shape-shifting labyrinth inside, full of hidden places and people. Alice finds talking cats, magic-seeking leeches, and Isaac. He introduces her to the power books can possess, far beyond the pleasure of a good story. They can also contain terrible danger, especially for a Reader – someone who can literally enter into the world of a book. Alice quickly discovers that her family contains Readers, and that she might be one too. It’s not a very safe discovery, and it puts Alice in more danger. She has to figure out whom she can trust in her quest to get to the truth.
The Forbidden Library is an exciting and sometimes scary adventure. The story builds up to the most dramatic encounter and revelation, while still leaving room for the tale to continue in the future. I loved Alice, and the friendship she makes with Isaac despite their mutual distrust is really strong. There’s the tiniest hint that maybe, in the future, they might like each other even more. Ashes the library cat is gorgeous – who doesn’t love a talking cat? I liked how the library altered its appearance, leading its visitors where it wants them to go. The way the magic is stored in the books is interesting too; not all books contain magic, some authors and stories are more likely candidates than others. I think that if The Forbidden Library were checked for magical content it would definitely contain more than its far share.
The Forbidden Library is available now from Doubleday. The publisher was kind enough to give me an eBook via NetGalley – thank you.