Libraries are (obviously) always important. But in Genevieve Cogman’s Invisible Library series, a library is what keeps all of existence in balance. Tasked with keeping the peace between the noble, orderly dragons and the chaotic, untrustworthy Fae, the Librarians reside outside of time itself and maintain the balance between all possible worlds. Sometimes, this even involves stealing extraordinarily powerful books whose effect will too drastically alter the status of their world. In the fifth installment of the series, heroic Librarian Irene is summoned to solve a murder in an alternate-reality Paris before it derails a historic peace conference. We talked to Cogman about the future of her series, and which alternate-reality book she’d love to steal.
I love the concept for this series—two supernatural species, kept in balance by Librarians who can alter little pockets of reality and go about stealing disruptive books to keep them safe in their Invisible Library. Where on earth did it come from?
It came from a whole mix of things, really—law and chaos at opposing ends of the universe, and mysterious interdimensional libraries [of] Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman and other sources. Like a lot of authors, I pulled out the bits I liked and put them together in a new way.
The plot of The Mortal Word relies in some ways on its setting in Paris. Did the setting or the story come first, or were they in balance, as it were?
I picked Paris because I particularly wanted to use a specific location in Paris. (I’m not saying which location it is because I don’t want to spoil the story, but anyone who’s finished the book can probably guess.) So I suppose the setting and the story were mostly in balance. But Paris fit in other ways—it was convenient for the peace conference and luxurious enough to keep the participants in a good mood. I suppose the peace conference could have been held in Antarctica in an abandoned science station, where nobody would have known about it, but imagine how certain people would have reacted on being asked to accept local inconveniences.
Have you read any books that you’re surprised a Librarian hasn’t stolen? And are there any alternate reality books you’d be tempted to steal?
Well, I have a copy of Ursula K. Le Guin’s translation of the Tao Te Ching, which I would think anyone would want to steal, but that’s not actually fiction. If we were to consider unique books which never got written in this world but might have been written in other worlds, I’d love to read a version of The Tale of Genji which actually went into how Genji died—in our world, that chapter is left blank, but who knows how the story goes in other worlds?
Each Fae has an archetype or a character that they follow, and their actions are prescribed by the nature of that character. Since they’re at war with the dragons, what do you think would happen if a Fae adopted a draconic archetype?
Unfortunately (for them), a Fae can’t actually turn into a dragon. (I’m sure it’s been tried!) It is quite possible for a Fae to adopt a noble, virtuous archetype, and in that case, they would behave in a noble and virtuous way. I’m not sure any dragon would trust them, though . . .
I got the impression that when the Fae’s stories get too many reboots, they’d turn out a bit like the Countess, with their personalities shattered and shot through with contradictions. Has that ever been done deliberately or tactically in the Invisible Library’s world?
It’s more the opposite—some Fae deliberately restrict their archetype in order to stay more focused, human and sane. Others prefer to go for the heights, and often go out in a blaze of glory. And there are always other Fae coming along after them, willing to take over the identity or imitate it on a smaller scale. There are probably half a dozen other would-be-Countesses out there, less powerful than the “acknowledged” one, lurking in their castles and dreaming of power.
I was struck while reading by the connections between the dragons’ characters and their elements, but also the connections between elements of related dragons. (For instance, Ao Ji’s affinity for ice and Kai’s affinity for water.) Are dragons’ elemental affinities tied to their personalities, or are they more hereditary or familial?
That is an interesting question to which the dragons don’t have a definite answer. It is considered fortunate for a dragon to have the same elemental affinity as one of their parents (Kai’s father also has an affinity to water), but it’s far from always the case. However, a dragon who has a strong affinity for a particular element will usually organize their life and surroundings to be conveniently close to that element—both for preference and for strategic reasons.
The Mortal Word feels a bit like an episode of a long-running serial, and the series could theoretically go on for as long as you want it to. How much more of the Invisible Library world do you think you’ll end up exploring?
I’m not sure at the moment. I do intend that the series will have an ending, and I have a rough plotline up to the end of book eight. Beyond that, I can’t be certain. (Or there is the possibility of exploring other parts of that universe—Irene isn’t the only Librarian who gets into trouble.)
There’s a reference to a Library cataloging system, in which worlds are given numbers, and one number, in particular, is very prominently mentioned. What world is Beta-001? Or is that something you can’t tell us right now?
It’s the first world that the Library has cataloged in the Beta series—the worlds that the Library considers to be magic-dominant. That may or may not be something important in the long run . . .
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our review of The Mortal Word.
Author photo © Deborah Drake.