The Library of Shadows

I have mixed feelings about The Library of Shadows by Mikkel Birkegaard. The central concept is excellent (secret societies of people who can affect people using the power of reading), the story itself feels slightly stale and predictable.

Honestly the story sometimes feels like a fill in the blanks thriller. The hero who initially knows nothing about [insert name of secret society] is initiated when [insert loved one] is killed. After his initiation he discovers that there is an evil mirror of the secret society that is trying to destroy their opposition and take over the world. He gives up his career as [insert prestigious career] to investigate his loved one’s death. The hero discovers that he is the most powerful [insert power of secret society] there has ever been. There is an attractive woman who falls in love with him, a suspicious younger man who dislikes him and turns out to be a bad guy, a ridiculously obvious red herring, and the shady dude from his former life ends up being the big bad.  The bad guy offers the hero multiple chance to switch sides but the hero always selflessly declines. The bad guy uses [insert type of brainwashing/torture/threat]  to get the good guy on his side. The evil version of the secret society traces it lineage back to [insert significant historical place/organisation]. Everything almost ends in catastrophe but the hero save the day at the last minute with the help of the woman who loves him and the minor character who can [insert incredibly useful skill].

To fill in the blanks of my earlier description without any spoilers; the story centers on a man named Jon Campelli. When his father dies, seemingly of a heart attack, he is initiated into the Bibliophile Society. The Bibliophile Society is secret society comprised of people called Lectors. Lectors have the ability to control how a person perceives a text. There are two types of Lectors, Receivers and Transmitters. Receivers can reach into your mind to change how you perceive a text, and Transmitters can change a listener’s perception of a text when the read out loud.  The two factions split twenty years ago due to internal tensions, and are reunited by Jon when he discovers the existence of the Shadow Organisation (yes that’s really what they are called). When Jon is Activated, his powers as a Lector are so strong that he can affect the physical world (bending metal, electrical discharges, minor explosions etc.). The Bibliophile Society only cares about nurturing the love of literature through public reading programs, and protecting libraries etc., but the Shadow Organisation uses their Lector abilities to gain power and prestige.

With all of the predictability set aside the book is still an enjoyable read. While I did find myself skimming some of the connective tissue of the story, the action parts, and more importantly the reading parts, are absorbing. The novel was originally published in Danish which once again leaves me questioning differences between the original and the translation. It is entirely possible that some of the problems I have with pacing of the text would be eradicated if I could read it in its original language. Even the predictability of the story may be less in the original version, with the hints that seem so obvious in the English version downgraded to thriller appropriate foreshadowing.

 

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