Any time I can find a fictional character who loves books as passionately as I do, who can pen romantic ballads to the smell of aged pages and new ink and the heft of holding a world in your hands, I’m sold. My favorite settings on the planet are libraries and forgotten bookshops and homes filled so tightly with books that the uninitiated feel claustrophobic upon entering. When books feel alive and vibrant and important within the pages of one of their kin, I am ecstatic. I have this problem, though. When a book about books proclaims its love for the written word in its early pages but is then distracted by other supposedly more pressing matters, like romance or mystery or murder, I always feel just the teensiest bit let down. Not that I don’t still enjoy the story, mind you; it’s just that I end up scanning for more mentions of books, and those mentions get fewer and farther between segments with more action.
*Insert long-suffering sigh here.*
This was a fun little book, with more bookish mentionings than many others in the “books about books” subgenre. Here, books were loved and abused at the same time, cherished and mutilated, loved for the words they held and carved into submission so that they would serve as a cipher to deliver someone else’s message. The mystery around which the plot focused was twofold, and I enjoyed watching those two aspects spin closer and closer to one another until they finally met in a decently satisfying conclusion. But, as with many books about books, the further into the story I got the less present books felt, which was disappointing.
“All words are masks, and the lovelier they are, the more they are meant to conceal.” —Steven Millhauser, “August Eschenburg”
For the most part, I enjoyed the book, but I could never connect fully to the main character or the main supporting characters. The most sympathetic character was dead, and the most likable living characters were secondary characters with minor rolls. I understand that our main protagonist had lived through a nightmare as a child, but her decision making skills left much to be desired, in my opinion. She sometimes came across as petty and hateful to those closest to her, while in the same scene sweetly taking care of her BookFrogs, homeless men and other social outcasts who saw the Bright Ideas Bookstore as their true home. Lydia is a wonderful bookseller and caretaker of broken people, but is kind of terrible at relationships with people who don’t need her help.
Overall, this was a fun little book, especially if you like whodunnits and books through which you can feel the authors love for the written word. This was the author’s debut novel, and I thought it was well done. I do feel the need to point out to fantasy fans that this is Matthew J. Sullivan, not Michael J. Sullivan of Riyria fame; so don’t go into this book expecting elves or dragons. I feel that the plot and setting and writing style within this book will appeal to a broad audience. Enjoy, book lovers!