Recently I had the pleasure of reading (‘devouring’ is probably a better word) Genevieve Cogman’s The Invisible Library. Starring Irene who is a professional spy for the mysterious Library her mission is to retrieve rare texts from different realities. I fell in love with Irene, her apprentice / protégé / assistant Kai, and Vale the detective they meet in one of these realities almost instantly. I was so excited about the sequel The Masked City which is released today (YES! WOOHOO! PARTY TIME) and even more so when I had the chance to read it early and interview the author Genevieve Cogman herself.
My interview with Genevieve Cogman is after the cut and while it isn’t very spoiler-y there are mild spoilers abound.
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.
With a lot of the rules of the world(s) established in The Invisible Library, in The Masked City Genevieve Cogman deepens the mythology of her universe in a darkly humorous and incredibly clever way. Irene knows she has to rescue Kai no matter what it takes and no matter what is at risk. So she travels to a high-chaos world where people (and this really means fae) are the heroes of their own melodramatic stories and other people (and this really means humans) are the supporting cast. In a world where she could be swept into someone else’s story, where her thoughts could literally become plot points in her own story, she has to navigate her way to Kai.
It is such an entertaining book and I was gripped throughout. But more than this it is such a clever book and that’s what I really loved. I remember in school when my English teacher told us all to assume our readers are stupid – I didn’t believe him then and I am so glad that authors like Genevieve Cogman haven’t ‘dumbed’ down their books. All the various plot threads and interactions are written so well and we race to an ending which had me longing for more.
In honour of the launch of The Masked City (which is out today) I had the chance to ask Genevieve Cogman some questions about her wonderful books and her writing process.
As a main character I loved Irene. She was entirely believable and I loved her determination, intelligence, and love of books. How did you go about creating her?
I’m very glad that you like her. I started off with her basic characteristics – Librarian (thus determined, intelligent, and rather obsessed with books), and the fact that she was a bit of a loner and was fond of detective stories. She developed some other characteristics as I was writing the first book, such as liking brandy and having a past history involving cat burglars. There are a couple of other details about her past which inform her current character and situation, but I can’t tell you about them yet. Sorry!
Irene’s wit is so strong throughout The Masked City and the whole book was also full of humour. Do you find it easy to write these scenes?
I do enjoy writing them, but I wouldn’t say I find them easy. What sounds funny in my head while I’m imagining it may be a lot harder to convey on the page. Part of it may also come down to tone of voice or timing, which are part of the scene when I’m visualising it, but which are more complex when I’m actually putting it down on paper.
I love the relationship Irene has with Kai and Vale. They trust and support each other and after the events in The Invisible Library and The Masked City have become friends. How important is their support for Irene? And can you tell us a little more with how the relationships will develop in the third book?
Irene is finding their support increasingly important. She’s used to having to work alone, and it’s a pleasant surprise to having people around her on whom she can depend. But it’s also an added responsibility – the more she gets used to having them there, the more aware she is that it could all go wrong, that she might have to go back to doing without them…
Book 3 goes a bit more into her relationship with Vale, but I really can’t say more without spoilers. We also start to explore the question of how much his current friendships mean to Kai, compared with his responsibilities elsewhere.
As someone who started their working life in a Library (back when I was a teenager) I love the Library you have created and the importance of language and truth. What was your inspiration behind having books play such a central part in your novels?
My own lifelong love for books. I am a total bookworm. I have been known to have my nose in a book while walking home. My flat is overcrowded with books. Sometimes you just have to write what you love.
As a Library employee and someone who can use Language, there was a point in The Masked City when Irene questions how human she is (especially when she refers to humans as ‘them’ and doesn’t include herself in it). I found this so interesting to read – will you be exploring this in the third book?
It is an issue which is going to keep coming up in the future. After all, when you’re capable of altering reality through your words, when you can escape to a Library that’s outside normal space and time, and when you’re part of a Big Secret which nobody else knows about… how long would it be before you start referring to other people as “normal humans” or “just humans”, and consider yourself special? And how healthy an attitude is this, long-term?
In The Masked City you decide to take the action out of the Library and at one point Irene is unable to go back into the Library for guidance or help. What made you decide to do this?
Part of the tension of the book was in putting Irene in a situation where she couldn’t get help from the Library, or indeed from anyone else: where she had to operate on her own.
The Masked City is such a tightly plotted novel. Did you plot your novel meticulously before you started or did vital elements of your story change as you wrote?
I did plot some parts fairly closely, but others I left open for expansion for when I got there, or in the case that I had a better idea about how to handle them. The very end had a few last-minute changes, too. Then afterwards I went back and sewed in the metaphorical loose threads, put in foreshadowing, etcetera. And of course my editor Bella Pagan was an amazing help in making it all work.
Your supporting characters are extremely well thought out and rounded. Is it easier for you to create these secondary characters as opposed to the main protagonists?
It’s easier in some ways, because I can focus on how the protagonist perceives them, and don’t have to worry so much about their inner monologue. That is, I can write “Lord Silver as Irene sees him” much more easily than I would write “Lord Silver as he perceives himself”. While I do have to consider their motivations and their personal history to some extent, I can focus more on making them memorable and on the impression that they make on Irene.
Can you tell us all a little about your writing process? Are you a pen and paper sort of person?
I’m afraid I’m much more of a computer person, though I do have a pen and a paper notebook in my bag. I have appalling handwriting! I do note down ideas on pen and paper if they’re what I have to hand, but I do my writing on my computer, sitting at my desk. And since I have a day job, I usually do the actual book-writing in the evenings.
The Masked City ended in such a tantalising way! Can you give me a hint of what the third book will hold (and I for one and very happy for all and any spoilers to come my way!)?
I’m afraid I can’t tell you very much. The third book does involve travelling to exotic places where people will try to kill our protagonists – so nothing new there, then. It should also involve the return of several characters from books 1 and 2, a Library-wide crisis, the hidden werewolves beneath London, and Irene learning the difference between “poisonous” and “venomous”, because, as Coppelia points out, one should always be precise in one’s choice of words. But it’s still in editing, so… I hope you’ll enjoy the final result. Thank you for your interest!
Thank you so much Genevieve!
As I said The Masked City is out today and available from all good and evil retailers. I received the book for free. My review is definitely my own and neither it nor my opinions haven’t been swayed by the free book swag.
Also how beautiful are the covers? I can’t wait to see what the third one will look like!