Ex Libris review

exlibrisIt’s taken me longer to read this book than I’d hoped. At first it all sounded fantastic, with an elderly bookseller hero and a plot involving spies, ciphers, hidden libraries and a missing (and extremely valuable) book. And at first, it bowled along with great vigour as Isaac Inchbold was asked to track down the lost book, The Labyrinth of the World, by Alethea, a mysterious woman living in a vast Gothick house in Dorset surrounded by mouldering books and papers.

Inchbold set off on his quest, rather against his own inclinations, and soon found himself tracking down clues in the seedier inns and back streets of London. Interwoven between his sections were chapters involving two earlier characters, Emilia and her lover Vilem, fleeing war in Prague and travelling to England in the care of Alethea’s father, to deliver a rare manuscript to the then Prince of Wales.

So far, so ingenious. But gradually the book tailed off. The author had clearly done heaps of research, but had a tendency to put too much of it on the page, often in the form of stilted dialogue where one character told another chunks of backstory or extolled the virtues of book after book after book. Sometimes the wrong character seemed to be delivering these lectures – one who would know less than their audience – and the constant listing of this medieval edition or that classical author became tedious, and really got in the way of the action. So much so that it took a very long time indeed for the plot to get anywhere, and then when it did, it rather petered out.

Without giving too much away, Emilia and Vilem vanished from the pages before their story had been fully told. The Labyrinth of the World turned out not to be the missing book Isaac Inchbold thought it was. And the whole of his quest proved to be something of a ruse.

In the end, there was a neat twist involving Emilia, Vilem and Alethea, and a melodramatic climax involving cataclysmic flooding at the Gothick hall. But it wasn’t enough to make up for the flaws, and I was left wondering rather what the point of it all was. A shame, as Inchbold made an engaging hero and the flight from Prague was dramatic enough for a book of its own. But all the breathless hints about intrigue and mystery came to nothing, and I was left feeling disappointed and more than a little let down.

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