Format: hard cover, first edition, 2016
Reading time: about 8.5 hours
One sentence synopsis: Isaac has now exposed the world to the presence of magic and supernatural creatures, but now must deal with those who are threatened by this revelation and plan to eliminate that threat.
The end is here for the Magic Ex Libris series, aside from a novelette about ancillary character Jeneta entitled Imprinted. Jim C. Hines noted on his website back in 2015 that, barring some unusual circumstances, Revisionary would be the final book in the series as he desired to move on to other projects. In my opinion the sequels have been great, but with a slight decline in quality from each book to the following one. So does the trend reverse with Revisionary? Keep reading to find out, and as always there’s going to be some spoilers, but first, on with the guest reviews…
Liz Bourke at Tot.com states: “Hines’ love for speculative genre literature shines through on every page. In many ways, this series is an ode to the weird, the batshit, and the wonderful imaginative possibilities of speculative fiction—which does occasionally make it feel as though it’s playing an insider’s game: it might be a little too sincere about its love, sometimes…It reflects, too, a world in which governments cannot be trusted in the least to respect due process and human rights, and its generally optimistic tone is darkened by the underlying dialogue on the nature of civil rights and equality before the law when whole classes of people can be designated as not human enough at a government’s convenience. This is a fantasy novel that deals with the trappings of the security state, and its positive ending is a fragile, fragile thing. Deeper thematic arguments and questions of political morality aside, Revisionary is an awful lot of fun. I personally really enjoyed the fact that Isaac spends most of the novel simply surrounded by competent women…If I have one complaint, it’s about the italicised sections of context-free dialogue that open each chapter. It takes a while for a reader to realise who’s talking in these segments, and that is a little distracting.”
From the Mind of C.E. Tracy says: “This was the best book in the entire 4 book series. The best. At least it ended on a high note. The story was fun and full of adventure. I liked how there was very little lull in the story. Even in the parts where they wasn’t much action, there was still something being learned, understood, figured out, etc. I also liked how Issac had much more freedom than in the previous books. He always seemed held back. Now, with the death of Gutenberg, he is finally able to spread his wings and grow. All of the characters have grown tremendously throughout the series. As I mentioned in the paragraph above, Issac was held back because of Gutenberg, but now he has since become so much more powerful. I think it is cool that he can read magic. I also like how he can siphon others’ magical abilities and use them temporarily…Then there’s the relationship between them and Nidhi. It feels like one of those things where they finally realise that no one is going anywhere and have finally just accepted each others’ role in it. It wouldn’t be too far a stretch to also say that Issac and Nidhi have developed a fondness for each other. The writing is much more polished than it was in the other books. This one had a better flow and just felt better put together.”
I disagree with both of these reviews: I think Revisionary is, while still a good story, the worst book of the series, and I’ll tell you why. In the plots of the previous novels, Isaac uses libriomancy to battle against magical threats, from automatons and killer bugs to ghosts and god-like creatures. Isaac’s libriomancy allowed him to pull really cool things from books, things that make many of us readers “geek out”. In Revisionary, however, I never really felt that “geeking out” experience. The things that Isaac used were appropriate, and his libriomancy has evolved in a spectacular way. But both of these things are driven by the plot and Isaac’s adversaries, and that’s where the true problem lies.
Spoiler Alert! The main plot of Revisionary revolves around a subset of the government trying to destroy magic, or as Liz eloquently put it, “whole classes of people can be designated as not human enough at a government’s convenience”. This plot is so worn out and cliche that I really struggled with it. There’s nothing new about the government (or a subset of it) trying to control or destroy people with supernatural powers…X-Men used it, The Avengers used it, the TV show Alphas used it, and there are dozens, if not hundreds, of other stories, movies and TV shows that have used it. In other words, it’s over-used, it’s tired, and it’s quite frankly annoying to see it pop up yet again. Sadly, with the direction the Hines took by the end of Unbound, there was no other way to go, and that’s what is most disappointing to me.
One could argue that the means by which this plot was implemented – using magical creatures and networked clones to destroy magic – was fairly unique, and regarding the actual creatures used, they’d be right. Ultimately, however that plot point – using supernatural creatures or people against other supernatural creatures or people – is also not new. As I expressed in my review of Unbound, I was afraid that with this new direction Hines was taking, that he wouldn’t be able to consider all the ramifications that would result from the direction of his plot, and I was right…I thought of at least a dozen things that Hines never considered, because one person can’t always conceive every detail when using a scope this big (the integration of magic and magical creatures into societies all over the world).
Very little time is spent on the ramifications of Isaac’s decision to reveal magic to the world. He didn’t ask anybody else what they thought. He didn’t get a consensus. He didn’t really think through what the consequences of his actions would be. Some of this is explored through the chapter intros, where Isaac sits before congressional hearings, or discusses the issue with someone (I won’t reveal who), but the ethics and morality of the decision that he made, by himself, are largely absent from the main story, except in the research center and the way that Isaac attempts to aid his niece. This means that the story presents the ways in which Isaac benefits, but spends little time on what the cost has been to those he has “outed”, except for a report on an exterminated vampire nest that is strangely clinical and cold.
Another problem with the book is that Isaac has become far too powerful. His magic is so strong that he can solve any problem and threats don’t feel as substantial. And he doesn’t even really need the physical books anymore to overcome problems, which is sad because the original form of libriomancy – reaching into books and pulling things out – has been pushed aside to a large degree, and in my opinion it was one of things that made libriomancy so much fun. There are some other issues, such as Ponce de Leon, a once-prominent character, completely disappearing. He does not appear in the book, and his disappearance is never really explained other than he is grieving for the loss of Guttenberg. Also, in previous books, an enemy could get to Isaac by threatening Lena’s tree. Although the government is aware of Lean’s tree, Isaac’s enemies don’t use it against Isaac and Lena, which is a giant hole in the plot.
It’s not all doom and gloom. I agree with C.E. Tracy that it’s great to see the way Isaac and Nidhi (and Lena of course) have evolved their relationship. I also like that Bi Wei and Jeneta are integral to the story, although I would have liked them to play a bigger role. Deb DeGeorge the vampire is a great character – and in fact, Hines continues to write outstanding female characters, as Liz points out (and as I have pointed out in previous reviews) – and Smudge the fire spider is always a delight. As has been the case in previous books, Hines handles his action scenes (and there are a good amount here) with a deft hand, building the scene, and the tension, quite well. I just didn’t find them as compelling here as I did in those previous books.
In summary, I’m a bit sad that Revisionary is final book in the series, but mostly I’m relieved, as I didn’t like the direction it was taking. Obviously I’m in the minority, as my guest reviews (as well as reviews on Amazon and Goodreads) can attest to, so maybe it’s just me. As I mentioned above, on his site, Hines has a post entitled “Ending the Magic Ex Libris Series“. In this post, Hines states the following as one of the reasons for ending the series:
“The series reached a natural stopping point, one that brings closure to a lot of the things I’ve been doing throughout the books. In truth, Unbound could have been a good end point as well, but I’m happy to have been able to take that next step with Revisionary.”
And then further on there’s this tidbit:
“My son gets very sad and upset when a show he likes comes to an end, and I understand where he’s coming from. He’s young enough he doesn’t understand the danger of a series stretching out too long and jumping the shark, or simply losing its magic.”
I think this is what has happened to me: the series has stretched out too long and lost its magic, and to me, Unbound would have been a good end point. I can say that I sure am going to miss Lena, Smudge, and some of the other characters. I will also miss reading about the ability to pull things out of books; the initial awesomeness of Libriomancer still resonates with me, and has certainly sparked my imagination in a good way. For that, I will always be grateful to Mr. Hines…