Today I have the pleasure to speak with Genevieve Cogman, author of the fantastic and imaginative The Invisible Library. Genevieve has been kind enough to answer some questions about herself and her book, as well as contribute to our How Stories Connect Us section.
The Invisible Library was Genevieve's debut novel, released in January this year to great reviews. It's an imaginative and exciting adventure set against the backdrop of the Library. The Library is a secret organisation that straddles diverse universes and realities, its sole purpose to collect and preserve books unique to that realm for future prosperity. We follow the exploits of Irene, a collector, spy and renaissance women for the Library, as she is given the order to safeguard an uncommon book from a pseudo-London, inhabited by vampires, werewolves, Fae and its own version of Sherlock Holmes. Assisting her is Kai, trainee librarian and a man with his own secrets. As you can expect things don't go as planned. Death, danger and chaos soon ensue.
You can also read a review of The Invisible Library here on our site.
Can you tell us a little about Genevieve Cogman?
I'm a classifications specialist in the NHS who lives in the north of England. My hobbies include patchwork, knitting, and beadwork, role-playing games, and reading far too much. I have a serious lack of self-control when visiting bookshops and craft stores. I am also lazy and like to sleep in at weekends.
When did you decide to become a writer?
There wasn't really a single moment of decision. When I was in my teens, I was daydreaming complicated private stories – usually with myself as the heroine. In my early twenties, I was writing filk and fanfiction, and playing online and offline role-playing games, including text-based ones, which included a lot of character description. Then later I got some freelance work doing role-playing game writing, and also wrote a whole lot of fanfiction, not to mention two other attempted complete novels… Actually getting a manuscript accepted by an agent and then by a publisher, that was the surprise and the break in the pattern.
What was your inspiration behind The Invisible Library?
One of the ideas behind the story was the idea that people were trying to save works of fiction from alternate realities, and that different realities had different versions of the works of fiction. When people are trying to stock fictional libraries, they often do it with vitally important works of fact – histories, geographies, biology, science, even philosophy and theology. I wanted my heroines and heroes to be hunting purely for fiction, and to have a reason for doing so.
What do you think makes a good story?
This is not a question for which I have a good answer. One argument is that a good story is what the reader wants to read – but then, different readers look for and enjoy different things. I have friends who enjoy complex historical family drama novels, which are not particularly my thing, and equally I enjoy science fiction or fantasy novels which they would find boring. I may have a better answer to this one when I have more experience.
(If I ever do find the answer, I will rule the multiverse… er, write a best-seller so convincing that everyone will buy it and love it.)
What type of research do you do for your story?
If I intend to have the characters visit a particular location, then I'd read up on that location. This includes online research, and visits to the local bookshop and library. One benefit to writing about alternate worlds and histories (and magic) is that I don't have to be completely accurate on such things as, say, the layout of the British Museum, or the state of pseudo-Victorian-era politics in Vale's world. But there's a difference between being “not completely accurate” and writing something which would feel wrong. I don't want to throw the reader out of the story by having them run into something which feels outright inappropriate.
(And yes, I do reread my Sherlock Holmes stories when I want to get Vale's manner of speech correct.)
What question would you like to be asked? Be it what's your favourite curry to What's your favourite library? Actually, that's a good one, do you have a favourite library?
No favourite library, though I remember quite a number very fondly, especially my school library. But questions, hm. I suppose you could ask me what my favourite musical is?
The current answer would be Elisabeth, by Levay/Kunze. I'm particularly fond of the Takarazuka productions (my favourite is the Cosmos one in 1998-99), though I also love the German-language versions. (I have yet to hear or see it in other languages.) And my favourite song is Die Schatten werden länger.
And for those intrigued enough, you can check out Die Schatten werden länger from the link below,
And now for a little insight into the books and story that captivate Genevieve.
How Stories Connect Us questions
Which book do you own that puts a smile on your face and makes you happy just by holding it in your hand?
Quite a lot, to be honest, but one of my favourite comfort reads is A Point of Honor by Dorothy Heydt.
Which book or series do you read that makes you feel nostalgic, remembering the period in your life you first read it?
The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings. I was 7 when I first read The Lord of the Rings, and even younger when I had The Hobbit read to me as a bedtime story. I enjoy them for other things as well these days when I reread them, but there's also that little part of me which remembers the first time I was ever introduced to them. “Come not between the Nazgul and his prey…”
I would like to say I am genuinely impressed Genevieve read the LOTR's at the age of 7, a hat tip to her.
Which book or series do you read that makes your blood pump and your palms sweaty?
To be honest, none. It's not how I respond to them.
Which book or series do you think you could implant one of your own characters into? And would you want them to thrive and integrate, or would you want them to burn it all down?
I regret to say that most of the time my characters would be more interested in looking through the libraries than being ethically constructive or destructive. Perhaps they should visit Simon Green's Nightside setting – I'm sure Irene would like to get hooked into the rare books trade there.
Is there a particular author that leaves you thinking: “One day I would like to be able to write just like that?”
Lots of them. Ben Aaronovitch, Barbara Hambly, Barry Hughart, John M Ford… Honestly, I have a huge list of authors whom I admire, often in different ways or for different things in their writing. Though perhaps I should be saying, “I would like to write as well as that” rather than “I would like to write just like that”. I don't want necessarily to be “the next X”: I would like to hope that people will like my writing for its own style. Eventually.
A big thank to Genevieve for taking the time to speak with Fantasy Book Review. We look forward to reviewing the next in The Invisible Library series.
Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, which harvests fiction from different realities. And along with her enigmatic assistant Kai, she's posted to an alternative London. Their mission - to retrieve a dangerous book. But when they arrive, it's already been stolen. London's underground factions seem prepared to fight to the very death to find her book. Adding to the jeopardy, this world is chaos-infested - the laws of nature bent to allow supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic. Irene's new assistant is also hiding secrets of his own. Soon, she's up to her eyebrows in a heady mix of danger, clues and secret societies. Yet failure is not an option - the nature of reality itself is at stake.
"The Invisible Library is a world I want to write in. I want the opportunity to play in this sandbox, to visit the Library and meet someone new, and to take them on adventures through this intricate and magical world of alternate Earths and mysterious interdimensional libraries. However, I will have to satisfy myself with Genevieve Cogman treating me to future stories in this world, and I would recommend that you give yourself that same opportunity."
When it's your job to save the day - where do you start? Librarian spy Irene has standards to maintain, especially while on probation. And absconding from a mission via a besieged building doesn't look good. But when her escape route home goes up in flames, what's a spy to do? However, it seems Gates back to the Library are malfunctioning across dozens of worlds. Worse still, her nemesis Alberich is responsible -and he plans to annihilate the Library itself. Irene and assistant Kai are posted to St Petersburg, to help combat this threat. Here Alberich emerges, as Irene tries to save her friend Vale and foil assassination attempts. Then one incredibly dangerous opportunity to save the Library emerges. Saving herself would be a bonus…
"This is not just an admirable follow up, but an author in complete control of her talent and her characters. The Burning Page is not only hard to put down, it’s hard to walk away from."
Reading The Mortal Word is some of the most fun you’ll have with a book in your life, and the fact that there’s already seven novels published (as of January 2021) means there’s more fun just around the turn of the page. Clever and witty, all while offering up a love letter to the detective genre and balancing the smartest urban fantasy worldbuilding in the business, The Mortal Word is an absolute gem and a must read for just about anyone.
Librarian-spy Irene is working undercover in an alternative London when her assistant Kai goes missing. She discovers he's been kidnapped by the fae faction and the repercussions could be fatal. Not just for Kai, but for whole worlds. Kai's dragon heritage means he has powerful allies, but also powerful enemies in the form of the fae. With this act of aggression, the fae are determined to trigger a war between their people - and the forces of order and chaos themselves. Irene's mission to save Kai and avert Armageddon will take her to a dark, alternate Venice where it's always Carnival. Here Irene will be forced to blackmail, fast talk, and fight. Or face death.
"The Masked City captured my imagination from the very first page, and brought me to an alternate Venice with stakes so high many Earth’s could have been destroyed by a way between the Fae and dragons. Genevieve Cogman writes with flair and passion that only a booklover can bring to a series about interdimensional librarians. The Masked City is an absolute must, an up-till-4am page-turner."
In a 1920s-esque America, Prohibition is in force, fedoras, flapper dresses and tommy guns are in fashion, and intrigue is afoot. Intrepid Librarians Irene and Kai find themselves caught in the middle of a dragon vs dragon contest. It seems a young librarian has become tangled in this conflict, and if they can't extricate him there could be serious political repercussions for the mysterious Library. And, as the balance of power across mighty factions hangs in the balance, this could even trigger war. Irene and Kai find themselves trapped in a race against time (and dragons) to procure a rare book. They'll face gangsters, blackmail and fiendish security systems. And if this doesn't end well, it could have dire consequences for Irene's job. And, incidentally, for her life...
"The Lost Plot is a fantastic addition to Genevieve Cogman’s oeuvre, and paves the way for a deeper exploration of the fantastic world that she has created."
The Secret Chapter was yet another brilliant inclusion in Genevieve Cogman’s ‘The Invisible Library’ series. Filled with fast paced action, thrilling heist moments, great character development – for both primary and secondary characters – and with a tantalising mystery to continue unfolding in future books, The Secret Chapter brought everything to love about great fantasy.