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Monday, June 15, 2009

"The Library of Shadows" by Mikkel Birkegaard (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu and Cindy Hannikman)

Mikkel Birkegaard at Wikipedia
Order "The Library of Shadows" HERE
Read a 43 Page Excerpt from "The Library of Shadows" HERE

"The Library of Shadows" is a joint co-review by Cindy Hannikman and Liviu Suciu so we will have two takes on it in the Analysis part, while one of the review authors wrote the Introduction and the other wrote the Overview.

As a long time book lover and heavy library user, seeing the title of Mikkel Birkegaard's novel made me very interested to see what it held in store. While there wasn't much information about this title - due to the language barrier of the original Danish publication- there was enough to grab my attention. Books being used to alter people's opinions is something that any fan of reading would be interested in. It's this concept that made me take the plunge and check out this debut author.

OVERVIEW: Across the centuries there have been "Lectors". Transmitters or Receivers, they are people for whom books are magic. True magic insofar that the Transmitters' readings truly can influence other people's thoughts and emotions, while the Receivers' amplification of anyone's reading will influence that person powerfully. A pair of Transmitter/Receiver can have indeed a very powerful effect.

However it all comes at a cost. Receivers tend to be dyslexic, loners, "hearing voices" all the time, so unless discovered and guided by other Lectors they can do go mad, commit suicide or even kill other people by mistake, essentially forcing them to keep reading against their will until a blood vessel bursts in the brain or the heart stops under extreme stress.

Transmitters on the other hand can very easily get lost in their reading, up to unconsciousness, coma and death. And of course there is the peril of discovery since if Lectors were to be found out by the public at large, it is easy to see how panic about mind-reader/brainwashing magicians could easily lead to discrimination, persecution and worse.

In today's Copenhagen, half-Italian Jon Campelli is a young up and coming early 30's lawyer. He has an extraordinary talent at court summation and he is becoming well known in judicial circles by his powerful reading of closing arguments that have swayed judges and juries quite a few times. Sent away and "disowned" by his antiquarian father Luca upon the suicide of his mother some 18 years ago, Jon who used to love reading books as well as listening to his father and his associate Iversen read to him, has never touched a novel since.

Katherina is the disxlesic protegee of Luca working as his sales clerk and all around employee in the famous Copenhagen Libri di Luca bookstore as well as a being a sort of surrogate daughter to both old men, Luca and Iversen, though she has no clue that Jon exists.

Mehmet is an internet jockey who makes a living by entering tons of online contests and winning his fair share. A super talented programmer/hacker and with an IT degree, Mehmet found that his Turkish origins made his job search in Copehnagen almost impossible, so he decided to use his talents on his own; deploying clever bots and using addresses of his numerous relatives and friends, he makes a decent living out of winning contests. and reselling the prizes. However the quantity and variety of received goods as well as his ethnicity make him a perfect target for police profiling and he is arrested once in a while on suspicion of being a fence. Jon has always been able to get the charges dismissed fast and is ready to help him countersue the police for harrasment, so the two are if not quite friends, at least good acquaintances.

Remer is a shady but wealthy businessman whose borderline dealings are under scrutiny in various trials. The best client of Jon's firm, Remer is seemingly unconcerned with possible consequences of the various trials and he is found a big pain in the butt by all the junior lawyers assigned to his case for lack of cooperation and such; despite that, he has never been convicted so far and every up and coming lawyer in Jon's firm gets a shot at his case sooner or later, hoping to be the one to finally clear Remer of all charges.

"The Library of Shadows" stands at 432 pages divided into 43 chapters. The narration is third person mostly from the POV's of Jon and Katherina, while the characters above and several others play an important role. The ending is very satisfactory tying all the threads of the novel well, though there is clear scope for more stories about Lectors and books as magic.


(Liviu's Take)

"Lu­ca Campel­li's wish to die sur­round­ed by his beloved books came true late one night in Oc­to­ber.

This is the opening line of the novel and it attracted my attention. From here "The Library of Shadows" moves very fast, following Jon's growing involvement with the Luca di Libri bookstore and the unusual people surrounding it.

First and foremost the Lector concept and its dual nature is very fascinating and very well done. The experiences of a Receiver of "hearing thoughts", the slow discovery of the power to influence others and then of the whole range of emotions when listening to book being read is fascinating and it pulled me inside the novel so to speak. The converse experience, of a Transmitter and the strong immersion when he or she reads a book, the sense of living the book to the full and in extreme case the inability to detach from it, is also vividly explored several times.

Jon and Katherina slowly grow on us and they are very likable, while the rest of the supporting cast feel also real, people with personalities and lives outside the book that you could meet in person.

The novel is a page turner end to end and the clean, very readable prose made it a very fast and pleasurable read. On the downside, the plot is pretty straightforward and the villains are cardboard ones, they almost wear the "villain hat" from the beginning, so no particular surprises or depth there.

So as a thriller, the novel may not have convolutions and fireworks, but for me that did not matter since I was fascinated by the Lector concept, I found it extremely well done here - including its integration in the real world through the various groups around - and I cared about the characters.

Highly recommended as a fast, entertaining and thought-provoking read and almost a must for any book-lover who reads hundreds of books a year, though people looking for a sophisticated thriller, twists, turns and high octane shootouts will not find them here.

(Cindy's Take)

As a debut author on an international scale it's hard to foresee how well the book is going to come across. Many authors have a great idea but fail to deliver in bringing that idea to life and making the reading experience great. But Mikkel Birkegaard definitely does not fall short with his novel!

The whole Lector idea is what *makes* the book. Without this unique element this would have just been a run of the mill thriller/mystery. For myself, this is what brought the book to life. Any fan of reading (and if you are reading this blog I'm sure you love books) will be fascinated with the idea that books aren't just out there for entertainment, but they can also be used to influence people. The whole concept is very nicely presented and comes across naturally; there's nothing confusing or complicated in it.

The characters, as Liviu has mentioned, are likable and no one is really "out there" to the point that it becomes unbelievable. There is a large amount of predictability about who are going to be the bad guys and who turn out to be the heroes. As it's Birkegaard's first novel, this is something that could be expected. However, the personality of the characters and their actions draw you into the book and you keep reading.

Fans of movies such as the The Da Vinci Code and National Treasure will like the historical references and secret society involvement that are another predominant part of the novel. While not exactly movie-like the book brings many elements that made such movies so popular and those that enjoyed them will certainly enjoy "The Library of Shadows".

In the end, it was a great debut novel from a very promising author. As long as the author keeps coming up with creative ideas such as the "Lectors", I am pretty sure there will be many more successful books from him.


Janet W-S said...

I just bought this book today for the very reasons mentioned by the reviewer(s), and because I'm a librarian. Other books which have previously brought me much delight for the same reasons are "Shadow of the wind" by Carlos Ruiz Zafon and "The book thief" by Markus Zusak.

The following sentence in the review caught my eye: "Katherina is the disxlesic protegee of Luca ...". Look closley at the word dyslexic. I'd like to think this was done on purpose, but if not I would like to offer my proofreading skills for $40 (Aust.) per hour.

I'm still looking forward to reading the book.


Liviu said...

This English language is trickee (!) with the y's and the i's so please excuse the one mistake, it's mine :)

Though i got the dyslexic word correct once some lines above, so one of out two :)

That i capitalization is hard too in fast comment :)

Anonymous said...

Janet I see you misspelled closely...


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