Irene is a staff librarian of the Invisible Library, and when we meet her, she's just completing a mission--the retrieval, or more bluntly theft, of a unique manuscript on magic from a magic-dominant alternate reality. She winds up having to face down gargoyles and hellhounds to escape with her prize, but escape she does, back the Library.
And her reward is to immediately be sent on another urgent mission, to retrieve a unique edition of Grimm's Fairy Tales from a world where both magic and technology work, and which is also contaminated by Chaos. The Chaos contamination means that this alternate world is quarantined and normally off-limits to the librarians. This is a dangerous assignment.
But it gets better. As a fully qualified but still young librarian, Irene is expected to mentor trainees, and she's been dodging that. Now she has a student to mentor, a young man named Kai, who'll be going with her on this dangerous mission. And it doesn't take her long to notice that there's something very odd about Kai.
Soon Irene and Kai are dealing with a friendly yet oddly unhelpful resident librarian, vampires, werewolves, a very dangerous Fey called Lord Silver, and a secret society called the Iron Brotherhood, which is very, very anti-Fey. There's also Irene's old mentor and nemesis, Bradamant, and the renegade, legendary in a bad way, malevolent renegade librarian, Alberich. And dragons. Did I mention dragons? Pretend I didn't mention dragons.
For me, this book was just a lot of fun. There are theories and speculation about the possible higher purpose of the Library in stabilizing the worlds, but for Irene, as for any true librarian, it's all about the books. The higher purpose, for her, is ensuring that no book, or at least no book of any significance (which might be any of them, who knows?) is entirely lost to humanity. And as long as the Library exists, outside time, no book added to the Library can be lost.
The pace of the story moves along nicely, but what really grabbed me is the complexity of the characterization. Neither Irene nor Bradamant is entirely admirable, for all that we naturally like Irene better. Yet they both have their standards, and they share a deep loyalty to the Library, that (sometimes) overrides the conflict between them. Kai is an interesting mix of naivete and experience, due to a complicated past we at first learn about slowly. Irene is an interesting teacher for him, given her cheerful willingness to just improvise wildly when confronted with a problem of no clear solution, and then pretend that her improvisation is standard procedure.
This was very enjoyable, and I'm looking forward to Irene and Kai's further adventures.
I received a free copy of this audiobook from Audible.com in exchange for an honest review.