Libriomancer (Magic Ex Libris)

ISBN 13: 9780091953447

Libriomancer (Magic Ex Libris)

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9780091953447: Libriomancer (Magic Ex Libris)

Hugo winner Jim C. Hines's hilarious and clever Magic ex Libris series, where books come alive and libriomancer Isaac Vainio combats magical threats that spring from the page

Isaac Vainio is a Libriomancer, a member of the secret organization founded five centuries ago by Johannes Gutenberg.  Libriomancers are gifted with the ability to magically reach into books and draw forth objects. When Isaac is attacked by vampires that leaked from the pages of books into our world, he barely manages to escape. To his horror, he discovers that vampires have been attacking other magic-users as well, and Gutenberg has been kidnapped.

With the help of a motorcycle-riding dryad who packs a pair of oak cudgels, Isaac finds himself hunting the unknown dark power that has been manipulating humans and vampires alike. And his search will uncover dangerous secrets about Libriomancy, Gutenberg, and the history of magic. . . .

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About the Author:

Jim C. Hines has been a paid juggler, earned a black belt in two different martial arts, performed yo-yo tricks at the top of the Eiffel Tower, and lived with a brain-damaged squirrel. (Only three of those are true.) One of his earliest stories earned first place in the Writers of the Future contest. He’s published more than forty short stories as well as numerous fantasy novels, including the humorous Jig the Dragonslayer trilogy, the Princess series, which re-imagines traditional fairy-tale princesses as butt-kicking action heroines, and the Magic Ex Libris series, about a centuries-old secret society dedicated to the use and control of book magic. In 2012, he won the Hugo for Best Fan Writer. Jim lives in Michigan with his wife, two children, and an unstable number of pets. He can be found online at www.jimchines.com.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Years ago, I was sitting in the green room at WindyCon, talking to editor Kerrie Hughes. Kerrie was putting an anthology together for DAW and wanted me to write her a story about Smudge. Not just any story, mind you—she wanted me to bring Smudge out of the caves of Goblin Quest and into the real world.

This presented a bit of a challenge. I eventually came up with a story about a man who could pull objects (and spiders) out of books, and his efforts to stop a would-be goddess from conquering a science fiction convention. In 2009, “Mightier than the Sword” appeared in the anthology Gamer Fantastic. While not a canonical prequel to Libriomancer, that story was the seed that eventually led to the Magic ex Libris series.

Thank you, Kerrie! And thank you to everyone else who helped me with this book. I received a great deal of feedback from my beta readers: Mindy Klasky, Catherine Shaffer, Marie Brennan, Kelly McCullough, Sherwood Smith, Stephanie Burgis, and Michael and Lynne Thomas.

Laura McCullough, Diana Rowland, and Kelly Angel helped tremendously by providing random expert advice on everything from architecture to dusting for fingerprints. (Even though the scene Kelly helped me with ended up getting cut from the final draft. D’oh! I’m sorry, Kelly!) Any factual errors that remain are entirely the fault of Bob, who snuck into the offices at DAW to try to sabotage my book. I hate that guy.

Thanks as always to my editor Sheila Gilbert and everyone else at DAW Books, and to my agent Joshua Bilmes.

As challenging as it can be to write a book, that’s nothing compared to the challenge of living with a writer. My deepest thanks to my wife Amy and my children Skylar and Jamie for their support and for just putting up with me, especially in those final months of 2011 as I worked to make my deadline.

Finally, thanks to all of you who’ve read and enjoyed my work. If books are indeed magic (and does anyone really believe otherwise?), then they’re a collaborative magic between author and reader.

SOME PEOPLE WOULD SAY it’s a bad idea to bring a fire-spider into a public library. Those people would probably be right, but it was better than leaving him alone in the house for nine hours straight. The one time I tried, Smudge had expressed his displeasure by burning through the screen that covered his tank, burrowing into my laundry basket, and setting two weeks’ worth of clothes ablaze.

The fire department had arrived in time to keep the whole place from burning. I remembered digging through the drenched, dripping mess my bedroom had become until I found Smudge huddled in a corner. With steam rising from his body, he had raced onto my shoulder and clung there as if terrified I was going to abandon him again. And then he bit my ear.

The four-inch spider was a memento of what I had left behind, one last piece of that other life. If magic were alcohol, Smudge would be both sobriety medallion and the one whiskey bottle I kept around as a reminder.

While at work, he stayed in a steel birdcage behind my desk, safely out of reach of small children. More importantly, it kept the small children safely out of Smudge’s reach.

According to a series of tests I had run with an infrared thermometer, Smudge’s flames could reach temperatures in excess of thirteen hundred degrees, roughly the same as your average Bunsen burner. I suspected he could get hotter, but since he only burst into flame when scared or threatened, it seemed cruel to pursue that particular research project.

Not to mention the fact that I was officially forbidden from doing magical research. My duties these days were much more straightforward.

I sighed and picked up the old bar code scanner. Age had yellowed the plastic grip, and the cord protruding from the handle was heavily reinforced with electrical tape. For the third time that afternoon, I played the red beam over the back of the latest Charlaine Harris novel.

The scanner’s LED flashed green, and the computer emitted a cheerful beep as the screen populated with what should have been the details of Harris’ fantasy mystery, a book our system insisted was actually The Joy of Pickling II, by Charlotte F. Pennyworth.

I tossed the useless scanner aside, cleared the record, and began manually entering the book’s information into the Copper River Library database. Without the scanner, it took me a half hour to input the rest of the new books into the system.

When I finished the stack, I glanced around the library. Mrs. Trembath was two-finger typing at one of the public computer terminals, probably forwarding more inspirational cat photos to her grandchildren. Karen Beauchamp was huddled in a beanbag chair in the children’s section, reading The Color Purple.

Karen’s parents would be ticked to know she was reading books they hadn’t personally approved. I made a mental note to save a nice, innocuous dust jacket Karen could wrap around the cover.

Aside from them, the library was empty. Traffic had been slow all afternoon, as people took advantage of the June sunshine.

I removed a fire opal pendant and set the orange stone on the center of the keyboard. The screen flickered, and a new window popped up on the screen. A simple circular logo showed an open book etched onto a medieval shield above the letters DZP.

This database had nothing to do with the Copper River Library. Having cataloged the new books for one library, it was time to do it all over again. I began with a book called Heart of Stone, a paranormal romance about a half-gorgon detective who got involved with a sexy mafia hit man. The story was nothing unusual, but the hit man wore enchanted sunglasses that allowed him to see magic and protected him from the detective’s gaze. Those could be useful in the field. I entered the description and page numbers. The author also hinted that the half-gorgon’s tears had aphrodisiac properties, and were potentially addictive. Something to watch for when the sequels came out.

One by one, I worked my way through the rest of the books. Copper River was a small town, but we had the best science fiction and fantasy collection in the entire U.P. Not that Michigan’s Upper Peninsula was the most populous place, but I’d match our catalog against any library in the state. I had read every one of the three thousand titles that strained the aging wooden shelves of our SF/F section.

Most of those books had been purchased through a grant from the Johannes Porter Institute for Literacy, one of the cover corporations for Die Zwelf Portenære. That grant paid most of my salary and kept the town well-stocked in speculative fiction. All I had to do to keep it was keep cataloging new books for the Porters.

Rather, that was all I was permitted to do.

“Hey, Mister V.” Karen had lowered her book. “Is something wrong with Smudge?”

I turned around just as a piece of the pea-sized obsidian gravel that lined the bottom of Smudge’s cage dropped to the tile floor. Smudge was pacing quick circles, and tendrils of smoke had begun to rise from his back.

I jumped to my feet and grabbed my worn canvas backpack from beneath the desk. Doing my best to hide the cage with my body, I pulled out a bag of Jelly Bellies and dropped one in beside the ceramic water dish nested in the gravel. “What’s the matter, partner?”

Smudge ignored me and the candy both. Not good.

Mrs. Trembath sniffed the air. “Is something burning?”

I searched the library, trying to figure out who or what was making Smudge nervous. Neither Karen nor Mrs. Trembath struck me as dangerous, but I trusted Smudge’s judgment over my own. His warnings had saved my life three times. Four if you counted that mess with the rabid jackalope. “Furnace trouble. I’m sorry, but I’ll need to close the library until I can get someone in here to check it out.”

Karen was leaning halfway over the desk, searching for the source of the smoke. I grabbed a paperback and gently swatted her back. “That means you, too.”

“I wish my parents would let me have a tarantula,” she grumbled as I escorted her toward the door. “If you ever need someone to watch him for you—”

“You’ll be the first person I call.” I thought back to the last time Karen’s family had been here and quickly added, “if you promise not to use him to terrorize your little brother.”

“I wouldn’t,” she said, eyes full of twelve-year-old mischief. “But if Smudge happened to escape into the bathroom while Bryan was brushing his teeth . . .”

“Out.” I gave her one final, playful thwap with the book. Unfortunately, while I was shooing Karen out the door, Mrs. Trembath had limped over to the desk.

She pointed her aluminum cane at Smudge’s cage. “Isaac, your poor spider’s on fire!”

“He’s not—” Aw, crap. Red flames had begun to ripple over Smudge’s back. I hurried over and took Mrs. Trembath’s arm, but it’s hard to rush an eighty-three-year-old grandmother. I managed to get her moving toward the door, then returned to check on Smudge.

That was a mistake. Mrs. Trembath came back moments later. She had left her cane by the door, and her wrinkled face was taut with determination as she raised trembling arms and pointed a red fire extinguisher at Smudge’s cage.

“No!” I stepped in front of her as frigid air whooshed from the extinguisher’s nozzle like an icy jet engine. It shouldn’t hurt our books, but I had no idea what it would do to a fire-spider. I held my breath and squeezed my eyes shut. I heard books and paperwork flying behind me. The instant the stream died, I reached out blindly to yank the extinguisher away.

My eyes watered. I had to stop myself from rubbing them, which would only make the irritation worse. White powder covered my shirt and hands.

“He’s still burning!”

I glanced at Smudge. As the chemicals from the fire extinguisher dispersed, Smudge’s flames flared even higher, taking on an orange tinge. All eight eyes glared up at Mrs. Trembath with what I could only describe as pure arachnid loathing.

Mrs. Trembath returned to the doorway to fetch her cane, which she raised in both hands like a samurai sword. “At least put the poor thing out of his misery.”

“He’s not burning. He’s . . . bioluminescent.” I doubted Mrs. Trembath weighed more than a hundred pounds soaking wet, but she had raised five kids, and could probably take on an entire wolf pack through sheer cussedness. Unfortunately, the last time I had seen Smudge this spooked, the threat had been far worse than wolves.

“Isaac Vainio, you get out of my way and let me help that poor creature.”

Magic would have ended our standoff, but I was already pushing things by keeping Smudge. Even the smallest spell could get me hauled down to Illinois to explain myself to Nicola Pallas, the Regional Master of the Porters.

Instead, I folded my arms and said, “Smudge is fine, but I really need to take care of the furnace situation.”

“He’s not fine, he’s—”

“Are you questioning my authority?” I widened my eyes, hamming it up as much as possible. In a faux-military voice, I asked, “Are you aware that section six point two of the Copper River Library user agreement gives me the authority to revoke your library card, including Internet privileges?

She lowered her cane. “You wouldn’t dare.”

I leaned closer and whispered, “A librarian’s gotta do what a librarian’s gotta do.”

We stared at one another for about five seconds before she cracked. With an amused chuckle, she jabbed a finger into my chest. “So why haven’t I ever seen him glow before?”

“Diet,” I said quickly. “He escaped last night and got outside. He must have gobbled down at least a dozen fireflies before I caught him.” I braced myself, praying she didn’t know enough about biochemistry to see through my rather weak excuse.

She backed down. “Maybe if you gave him real food instead of candy, he wouldn’t have to sneak out on his own.”

“He gets crickets at home.” I glanced around nervously as I walked her to the door. I still didn’t know what had set Smudge off, and the sooner I got Mrs. Trembath out of here, the safer she’d be.

“See you tomorrow afternoon?”

“I hope so.” Through the windows, I watched her make her way to the old blue SUV she affectionately referred to as the Rusty Hippo. As she pulled away, I spotted three people approaching the library. They were dressed far too warmly for June, even in the U.P. They kept their heads down and their hands in their pockets.

I locked the door, though if Smudge was right, that probably wouldn’t help. The trio stopped to study the address of the post office across the street. One reached into her pocket and pulled out a crumpled piece of paper. Her hand glittered like a disco ball in the afternoon sun as she scanned the buildings. She tugged her sleeve over her hand a second later, but that one glimpse was enough to identify them as Sanguinarius Meyerii, informally known as sparklers.

I returned to the desk. “You know, you’d be a lot more helpful if you could talk.”

Smudge continued running laps, flames flickering like tiny orange banners on his back. He was never wrong about danger, but he couldn’t tell you if that danger was a meteorite streaking toward the roof or an amorous moose running amok in the parking lot.

Or a trio of vampires.

I opened the cage door. Smudge scrambled out and immediately disappeared beneath the desk. “Careful,” I said. “If you burn this place down, I’m out of a job.”

Familiar adrenaline pounded through my limbs as I searched through the newly cataloged books from the cart. I might be forbidden from using magic in ordinary circumstances, but this definitely qualified as extraordinary. I grabbed Ann Crispin’s latest book, Vulcan’s Mirror, an old-school space adventure set in a mirror universe, complete with evil goatees for everyone.

I didn’t have an eidetic memory, but training and natural aptitude had put me pretty darn close. I flipped to chapter eight and skimmed to the scene where a lizardlike assassin was creeping down the corridor of his alien vessel, disruptor pistol in hand.

The author had described the scene in vivid detail: the hard, sharp-cornered metal of the weapon’s grip, the low heat on the assassin’s palm from the power source, the metallic blue sheen of the barrel as he sighted at a red-shirted security guard . . . detail after detail, each one painting the scene in the reader’s mind. Making it real.

Libriomancy was in many ways a lazy man’s magic. There were no wands, no fancy spells, no ancient incantations. No hand-waving or runes. Nothing but the words on the page, the collective belief of the readers, and the libriomancer’s love of the story.

Love was the key to accessing that belief and power. And this series had been one of my favorites growing up.

My fingers traced the words, feeling the roughness of the paper, the curve of the page near the spine. My mouth was dry, and my heart pounded like I was a kid about to kiss a girl for the first ...

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