December 15th, 2009


Pearl North, LIBYRINTH

Yes, I spelled Libyrinth correctly. I should say I know the author of this book, and she described it to me years before it sold, so I was looking forward to it for a long time.

The book wasn't what I expected, but neither was I disappointed. On the contrary.

The Libyrinth is a library in a post-apocalyptic society, full of books from old Earth, but unfortunately it no longer has an "egg" to power it, so the shelves do not move, the original lights and heat don't work, and it's very difficult to find anything. Small red creatures called imps take care of things as best they can, but there's only so much they can do without power. Outside the Libyrinth, life is mostly subsistence-based, and a non-literate culture called the Eradicants/Singers is slowly taking over everything. A little farther away, Ilysies opposes the Singers and awaits an advantage against them. Ilysies is a matriarchal culture and reminded me of ancient Greece.

There are two heroines, one special and one not. Haly is a Libyrarian's clerk, training to be a Libyrarian herself. She was found in the stacks after her parents got lost there and died. She can hear the books - she can read them, but they also talk to her, in different voices, sometimes relevant to her thoughts. (Yes, we eventually get an explanation for this ability.) Clauda is a servant and Haly's best friend; Clauda's skills are intelligence and the effective collection of gossip. I won't give away the entire plot, but the main thrust is that Haly among the Singers and Clauda in Ilysies, acting separately, have to protect the Libyrinth from the Singers. There were a lot of bated breath moments for me. I actually feared for the characters at more than one point.

The cool thing about this book is that there's no clear "good" and "bad." The Eradicants have reasons for what they do, and they are not at all monolithic, not even in their upper echelons. The Libyrarians think they are enlightened but are also constrained by fear. And Ilysies with its ruthlessly practical queen is a wild card that turns out to be very important as well. In addition, actions have real consequences that lead to plot complications. There are few easy decisions for the characters.

Many books are quoted within the novel, but the most frequent and important one is The Diary of Anne Frank, which makes for some interesting counterpoint to the novel's main themes.

As a minor note, Haly experiences her first romance with a boy, and Clauda, who's a lesbian, realizes to whom she's really attracted.

Definitely an interesting read.