Alice believes fairies are only fantasy until one night when she sees one talking to her father in the kitchen. A few days later, her father is lost in a shipwreck.
Alice realizes that if fairies are real — and she’s seen one — then magic is possible and anything can happen, in Djanjo Wexler's "The Forbidden Library." Her father’s accidental death may not be reality after all. She is determined to find the mysterious fairy that appeared to her father and get the true story of his disappearance.
Now that she is an orphan, Alice is sent to live with Uncle Geryon, a relative she didn’t know she had, who forbids her to enter his large mysterious library. But Alice loves books and finds a way inside with the help of a strange talking cat, Ashes, who is knowledgeable about the mysteries of the library.
She discovers that Uncle Geryon’s books are not ordinary volumes but ones that readers literally falls into. There are Portal Books that take the reader to other places and Prison Books where the reader, once inside, must either kill the creature within or contain it until it submits.
Uncle Geryon reveals to Alice that she, like himself, is a Reader, a person with a gift of magic, which she conjures from the words in the books. She is determined to use her power to find her father.
Alice meets Isaac, who tricks her into opening a book. When she does, she falls in and meets an enemy of Swarms who she manages to defeat and continues to use to her advantage.
Later, Alice enters a prison book and binds a tree sprite. She also uses the sprite to her advantage as she and Isaac are sent to retrieve a long-lost volume, “The Dragon,” about a creature who years before refused to be of service and was thrown into the book. Now Alice and Isaac’s only escape is to find Dragon itself and force it to submit. Dragon is finally defeated, but the book, “The Dragon,” falls into the wrong hands. Alice finds the fairy, Vespidian, but she’s left with many unanswered questions.
The notion of an eerie library lit by flickering torches that reflect a forest of yellow blinking eyes, and bookshelves that creak and shift at will with volumes that are portals to other places, is a delicious premise. There’s no technology to navigate in the forbidden library, just determination and the books. And what books! The books are the world’s knowledge housed at the fingertips of an unflinching young heroine Reader.
Wexler’s supporting cast of characters adds to the mystique of the library: Uncle Geryon, a cross between a wizard and a scary mentor; Mr. Black, an evasive servant; and Isaac, an arrogant would-be Reader whose alliance is doubtful.
The author introduces a troop of ethereal creatures to the library, such as the mother cat, Ending (with an implied allegory to her name and function), and Alice’s “minder,” Ashes, who slinks in and out of the adventure. Other creatures, such as bird-sized Swarms with terrible bites and a tree sprite, are fresh and new creations to the fantasy world. The Dragon, usually portrayed as fierce and fire-breathing, appears as a lumpy creature that has thunderous intentions but is lacking in animalistic ability.
The plot of “The Forbidden Library” moves rapidly as Alice pops in and out of book adventures all the time serving as Reader apprentice to her uncongenial uncle. The author tucks in clues and shadowy characters — seen but not quite recognizable — throughout that expand the mystery as Alice masters the trials set before her and develops into a strong heroine.
“The Forbidden Library” is an exciting beginning to a new series. It has clean language, and any described violence is age-appropriate. Avid readers who know that they can find adventure and “fall into books” will be delighted with the literary suspension of disbelief as it really happens, and then will be looking forward to Alice’s next adventure.