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Thursday, November 21, 2019

Books that are - literally - magic

While we might all talk about how “books are magic,” sometimes bibliomancy is really a thing. At least in stories. A book of power is just what every hero needs—and what every reader secretly wishes she had on her bookshelf.

Here are seven reads that feature books or libraries of power, ranked by the strength of the magic in the tomes themselves.


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Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson

In Sorcery of Thorns, books are not only magical, they are sentient. And sometimes they’re mad, bad, or just plain evil, so they are kept locked in Great Libraries so they cannot rampage across the countryside. When library warden-in-training Elisabeth is accused of letting a very bad book loose, she is taken capital to defend herself and discovers that she has been made a scapegoat to hide a wider conspiracy. Grumpy grimoires, sorcery, romance, and a driven heroine make this young adult fantasy novel a fun read indeed.


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The Binding by Bridget Collins

In Emmett’s time, books are not quite forbidden but they are looked at with deep suspicion. After falling ill to a strange sickness that weakens him too much to work in his family’s fields, Emmett is apprenticed to a bookbinder on the outskirts of town and promptly ostracized, for the skill of binding includes taking a person’s memories and binding them into books themselves. Sometimes it’s done willingly; sometimes not. An original magic system, lots of surprises, and a slow-burn romance have gained this book mixed reviews, with some enjoying the pacing of the plot and others impatient with it.


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The Starless Sea: A Novel by Erin Morgenstern

While books in themselves aren’t magical in Erin Morgenstern’s follow-up to The Night Circus, stories, myths, heroes, and heroines fuel the existence of the magic-infused starless sea that resides beneath the earth. When Zachary checks out a book from the university library that tells the true story of when he, as a boy, declined to open a magic door painted on an alley wall, he realizes that an opportunity he’d thought long gone has now appeared again. Pirates, cats, assassins, artists, and poets fill the pages of this glorious love letter to the magic of storytelling. (Named a top 5 best book of 2019 by the Amazon Books editors)


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The Library of the Unwritten (A Novel from Hell's Library Book 1) by A. J. Hackwith

In Hell resides a library in which the world’s unwritten and unfinished novels are kept. Sometimes characters escape from the novels, and head librarian Claire has plenty of hard-won experience in putting them back in their pages, where they belong. But when a character escapes topside, to Seattle, Claire and her sidekick demon have a bigger problem—especially when an angel in disgrace gets in their face because he believes they have the Devil’s Bible, which could change the balance of power in the world forever. Clever and fun, this book is reminiscent of Terry Pratchett’s works but with a darker edge.


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The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

January Scaller is left with her father’s patron on an expansive Vermont estate, while her father travels the world searching for interesting relics in the early 1900s. One such relic is a book titled The Ten Thousand Doors, which tells of Doors between worlds, and which gives January the secret to traveling them. When her father goes missing, January decides to leave her cosseted existence to discover his fate. Those who keep Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy or Katherine Arden’s Winternight novels on their keep shelf might want to add The Ten Thousand Doors of January in its own spot right beside them—a reminder that heroism, done properly, should be dangerous indeed. (Named by the Amazon Editors as a Best Book of the Month in September 2019)


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The Hazel Wood: A Novel by Melissa Albert

Teenager Alice knows fairy tales aren't real, though they certainly have affected her own life: Decades ago her grandmother penned a slim volume of brutal fairy tales set in the fictional Hinterland and then promptly retreated from the world. Alice and her mother have been on the road ever since, rarely staying in one place for more than a few months. But when Alice's mother disappears, taken by people who bear a nightmarish resemblance to the characters in her grandmother's stories, Alice turns to Hinterland superfan and sorta-friend Ellery Finch to help her track down her mother and her grandmother's long-lost estate. Mesmerizing and menacing, The Hazel Wood will hollow you out in a most satisfying way, and then prompt you to preorder or put on hold at the library the sequel, The Night Country, releasing in January 2020. (Named by the Amazon Editors as a Best Book of the Month in February 2018)


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The Invisible Library (The Invisible Library Novel Book 1) by Genevieve Cogman

This book is older than the others on this list but it’s a great pick for those who like to read series—and especially those who enjoyed Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next books or Jodi Taylor’s Chronicles of St. Mary’s novels. Irene has hopes of becoming the Librarian of her own world, but in the meantime she’s traveling from world to world via the Library, an agent who steals books of special value so they can be kept out of the hands of the Fae and dragons. On a mission to a world that’s a version of gaslight-era London, Irene discovers the book she’s mean to steal has already been stolen, and someone is now dead. Irene has to use her wits, her expertise, her new intern (who is definitely concealing some secrets), and a local resident reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes to get to the bottom of the mystery. Book six in the series arrives in January 2020—and I cannot wait.


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