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The Masked City by Genevieve Cogman

The Masked City by Genevieve Cogman
Book Name: The Masked City
Author: Genevieve Cogman
Publisher(s): Tor (US) Pan (UK)
Formatt: Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Fantasy / Steampunk
Release Date: December 1, 2015 (US) December 3, 2015 (UK)

I loved Cogman’s first novel, which introduced us to the Library, a vast repository of books collected from multiple alternate worlds. Irene is one of its agents, posted to a version of Victorian London, awash with chaotic fae, werewolves and vampires. The opening of The Masked City picks up where we left off, with Irene and her apprentice Kai attending an illegal auction for the Library’s latest requisition. However, things swiftly spiral out of control when Kai is kidnapped afterwards. With the help of Holmesian detective Peregrine Vale, Irene discovers it to be part of a plot to incite war between the fae and the dragons – the opposing forces of order and chaos.

Aided by the slippery fae, Lord Silver, Irene follows Kai’s trail to an alternate Venice, deep inside chaos. In the heart of enemy territory, Irene has only her own wits, wiles, and ability in the magic-like Language to see her through. With the exception of a couple of interludes from Kai’s perspective, this is Irene’s story and she’s a great heroine, smart, sarcastic and able to think on her feet. Plus her impressive knowledge of different dialects (including Arabic and Italian) gets her out of hot water several times –that’s one cool ‘superpower’.

We see more of the Language and the way she employs it. The literature student in me appreciates Irene’s need to be linguistically precise and grammatically correct under pressure. I particularly enjoyed the scene where she orders the bottom of a gondola to break, dumping her into water which she then subsequently freezes – all to escape the secret police chasing her. I felt she really grew in this book. She has a lot more responsibility which she isn’t afraid to shoulder, despite the possibility of trouble from her superiors.

It’s not only Irene who develops. A word of warning here: if you haven’t encountered The Invisible Library yet, you might want to stop reading now, as Kai’s true nature plays a central role in The Masked City. His interaction with his captors and Irene’s journey to visit his uncle both raise interesting questions about the dragons, their relationship with the fae and their role in the universe. I’d love to see more of them in Book Three.

The Masked City, however, shines the spotlight on the fae. We’re in a chaotic world – basically the fae’s playground – and it’s a chance for Cogman to show us who they are and what they’re capable of doing. She describes them as ‘soul-destroying entities from beyond space and time’ and their power comes from subverting people’s lives ‘into endless patterns of stories.’ I just love this idea. Each fae adopts an archetype which he or she gradually becomes closer to. A fae at the height of their power is utterly consumed by their archetype and is able to control the lives of lesser beings. It perfectly suits their self-centred nature and is a fascinating source of strength.

It also suits the setting: Venice. I’ve been once and it really is a magical place, full of history, politics and a wild undernote made manifest during Carnival. Naturally when Irene arrives in this chaotic version of Venice, Carnival is in full swing and the city becomes a labyrinth of masks and intrigue, lanterns and revelry. Cogman describes it beautifully, from the winding waterways and bars to the ornate opera house and the ancient, crumbling stone structures. It provides a haunting backdrop as she races to find Kai before he’s auctioned off to the highest bidder, igniting potential war.

The Masked City is a worthy follow-up to The Invisible Library and I think fans will be happy. It’s told in gorgeous prose which is far too easy to read – expect some late nights! – and although it ends on a bit of a cliff-hanger, it’s not a painful one. Cogman ties up pretty much everything while at the same time setting the stage for a third instalment, which I’ll most certainly be reading. These books are a true delight.


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