Reviews – Geekomancy by Michael R. Underwood and Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines

“Yeah. Spaceship blew up in my face. Gave me animal powers.”

– Animal Man

And to think that the least ridiculous book I read last week was about a superhero who could do animal things.

Geekomancy opens with a nod to Grant Morrison’s classic run on Animal Man, a D-list DC Comics character with the ability to absorb the traits of the animals around him. A man in a trench coat comes into Ree Reyes’ comic book coffee shop, purchases a copy of Animal Man in trade paperback, and rips it up to gain Animal Man’s animal powers. It’s Ree’s first introduction to– stop me if you’ve heard this one– the secret magical world that exists beneath the facade of our everyday mundane existence, and a precursor to her discovering her own latent talent for genre emulation. Also known, unfortunately, as geekomancy[1].

Meanwhile, on another Earth just like our own, a secret society of magic-users known as Porters protect the populace from– let me know if I’m repeating myself here– hidden supernatural threats that skulk amongst the shadows of our pedestrian lives. Libriomancer begins with Isaac Vainio a Porter in exile, banned from practicing libriomancy, a magical art that allows the user to manifest anything ever written in to our reality. The Porters use it to fight vampires, generally a byproduct of libriomancy gone awry themselves. It isn’t long before the Twilight inspired “sparklers” are knocking down Isaac’s doors and he finds himself drawn back into the field.

It’s kind of like Geekomancy, except in Libriomancer, Isaac never describes his friends in terms of their Dungeons & Dragons attributes and class levels.

If we were to open this for panel discussion at Dragon Con, it’s easy enough to see who would win in a fight. Libriomancer is better-written, only occasionally too cute in its dialogue, and maintains a serious tone throughout. Although it leans heavily on a weary “We have to keep magic a secret from the rest of the world” trope, there’s a consistent level of serious threat. Geekomancy, however, bolsters its length with a logorrhea of weak snark, and there’s a disconnect between the plot involving teenage suicides and the cartoon villains who are collecting their souls. You can’t genuinely be concerned whether or not Ree will stop her boss’ son from killing himself when it’s at the behest of Chief Dork Lord of Hell, the Thrice-Retconned Duke of Pwn.

That said, almost any novice geekomancer would best a libriomancer in a duel, because geekomancy cheats. There’s a lot of awkward exposition bolted onto the framework of Libriomancer’s plot, but over the course of Isaac’s investigation the reader does learn the rules and limitations of the book’s magic system. Occasionally it’s a little contrived, but there are reasons why a libriomancer couldn’t just publish their own ebook and pull a Hadron Collider out of their Kindle. (For one thing, it wouldn’t fit through the 6-inch display.) Geekomancy, on the other hand, has no rules. Ree gains her powers by watching Buffy or, in an admittedly unexpected reference, the 2005 film adaptation of Clive Cussler’s Sahara[2], and they last as long as it’s narratively convenient. Sorcery in Libriomancer is a matter of research and planning ahead. In Geekomancy, it comes down to whatever toys are on the nearby shelves.

Typical of urban fantasy novels, Geekomancy and Libriomancer are more in the mold of light detective stories than fully-realized fantasies. They’re also the first books in their own respective series, because at this point that might as well be federal law. Why tell a complete story in one novel when you can save an ancient immortal evil for use in books two, three, and four? Also, there’s all those unknowable vampire politics to never really explain. And what about werewolves? Could they be involved in a love triangle somehow[3]?

As such, both stories feel a little underdeveloped. But while the world outside of Isaac’s immediate jurisdiction doesn’t have much pull, there are enough clever ideas along the way that make it clear Jim C. Hines has put some thought into the genre. Geekomancy, on the other hand, is nothing but an embarrassing trip to an insufferably twee world where everyone thinks they’re talking like Joss Whedon characters, but they’re really just needy Mary Sues desperate for validation.

[1] This wouldn’t necessarily be so bad, if it didn’t lead to confrontations where characters said things like, “You can fend off one of us, but do you think you’re Geek enough to take us both?”

[2] “With her martial arts skills enhanced by the talents of Sahara’s Al Giordino…”

[3] In the case of Libriomancer, the answer is yes, in a way that kind of takes the piss out of Laurell K. Hamilton and would simultaneously make her proud.


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