Rating: 2.75 stars
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Lucas Tripp is the Queen’s Librarian. He is also her cousin, her much poorer cousin. He has a mother who loves to spend money and six sisters, four of whom need husbands and expect Lucas to find them suitably wealthy ones as their status (and their mother) dictates. Lucas also runs their family estate, takes care of their offerings to the gods, and tries to find time to spend with his patient and oh so gorgeous boyfriend Alex Booker. But nothing is running according to plan, any plans. One of Lucas’ sister is being courted by a renown womanizer who just so happens to be his boyfriend’s brother. Then when another sister finally settles on a suitable suitor, the man disappears amidst a flurry of speculation and a tinge of magic.
Before Lucas realizes it, he is in the middle of a multitude of mysteries. Where did his sister’s suitor disappear to? What happened to the rains? Who is the man who keeps popping in and out of his life and rooms, only to mutter a mysterious foreign phrase or two and then disappear? Everything seems to come back to The Stone Circle and the Daimin but what does it all mean? Lucas must find the truth, get his sisters married, save the town’s harvest, and make his cousin, the Queen happy. Oh, and find time to spend with his boyfriend. What is a Queen’s Librarian to do?
Carole Cummings’ Wolf’s-own series was fantastic and one of my favorites last year. So when I saw she released a new book I couldn’t wait to read it. I was expecting similarly marvelously intricate world building, multilayered characterizations, and a tight, deep story worthy of the first two elements. Unfortunately, I found none of that here. In fact, The Queen’s Librarian is almost the antithesis of those amazing stories and it seems she planned it that way. In her dedication, Cummings mentions that Fen of the Wolf’s-own series was the reason for this story. In her own words:
Fen, because if it hadn’t been for the bleak despair that was his headspace, I would never have needed Lucas and Alex to brighten up the path away from his angsty abyss.
Unfortunately, everything that was right with Fen is wrong with Lucas. Once again, it all comes back to characterization as the key to a story and at the heart of this story is one character so diffuse that he lacks a core personality to relate to. Lucas Tripp is one of those flighty, scatterbrained characters who dither and mumble and stumble their way through their life and the story. You can always count on them to be forgetful, naive to the point of stupidity, and have the focus of a Magpie. They are also unaware of their good looks, kind, and prone to a punctuation free, never ending style of inner monologue.
I have seen quite a few of these characters lately. Some I loved because they were so well done or their dialog was fun, if not downright delightful. Others not so much. Unfortunately, Lucas falls into the latter category. I will give you a sample of Lucas and the narrative you will encounter:
THERE was a bit of a scuffle, with Bramble assuming he and his muddy paws would be welcome in the house and Lucas begging to differ. Lucas won. Just barely. And Cat seemed a little too pleased with it all, so much so that she deigned to greet Lucas with a stretch and a serpentine saunter over to her milk bowl—on the shelf over the stove to deter Bramble from slurping it—rather than her usual slow blink and yawn. Or, in Bramble’s case, her usual glare of death and warning extension of claws. Lucas obligingly fetched her the last of the milk and let the reverberating contented purr that rumbled through the quiet of the little house soothe him as he stripped and changed. His clothes smelled of pub. He hadn’t noticed it when he’d dragged them back on this morning, or when he and Alex had been walking home, but now… drat it all, had he spilled ale all over his shirt? Or maybe taken a swim in it?
He tossed the shirt into the growing pile in the corner. There was a basket under there somewhere, he was sure of it, that he was going to have to gather up one of these days and present to Miss Emma. The anticipated oh-whatever-are-we-going-to-do-with-you look that always came along with the occasion was what held him back. He should learn to wash his own clothes… someday. He should also learn to cook. Toast and cheese and the occasional egg did not a satisfying diet make. And if he learned to cook, he wouldn’t have to spend so much time up at the main house, suffering through yet another not-quite-lecture about Why Certain Young Men Should Have Already Given Their Mothers Grandchildren. As if there weren’t enough of the little creatures about the place for supper every Sun’s Day. Sometimes Lucas wondered if Pippa and Nan weren’t actually in some kind of competition for who could produce the most children in the shortest amount of time.
Thank God they weren’t Lucas’s problem anymore. He was going to have to dump his wages from the Library into the estate’s coffers again, he could see it coming now. He’d been hoping to at least buy Clara’s handfasting dress for her, but he wasn’t as optimistic now as he’d been only a week or so ago. Slade had taken the news of his prospective wife’s poverty extraordinarily well, almost weirdly enthusiastically, actually, nearly doing backflips to assure Lucas that he was in love with Clara and not her supposed dowry. And he hadn’t even been drunk yet. It endeared him almost instantly to Lucas, and even Alex had been soppily charmed. Of course, there was still the meeting with Slade’s parents to get through before everything was official, and the Queen had to approve, if Lucas ever got the chance to put the request to her, but Clara wanted this, and it was a love match, not a contract of convenience, so Lucas would make it happen.
And this is pretty typical of all 224 pages of The Queen’s Librarian. It just goes on and on and on as Lucas goes on and on and on. He rambles, he dithers, he’s myopic, and the narrative reflects that in descriptions, dialog, and plot. It made my eyes glaze over. For me to find this type of personality charming, I need to feel that the character has a solid foundation beneath all that fluttering and I never got that from Lucas. His is a personality so wispy it’s almost airborne.
The plot of The Queen’s Librarian suffers from some of the same elements that mark this book’s characterizations. It rambles, yet I could clearly identify the villains almost immediately and determine where the plot meanders off course. It’s a dense morass of words that makes it hard to find your way through the storyline. And there is a neat plot here, but it is buried so deep under layers of extraneous words that it gets lost. The best part of this story is actually the last quarter (or less) of the book. The story gets a dynamic turn as the “aha” moment arrives, magic splatters off the walls, and finally we see some action, instead of the constant rambling discourse that is the trademark of the majority of this story.
If I were to pinpoint the things I liked about The Queen’s Librarian, I suppose it would be the dog, the actual plot underneath it all, the Queen, and her Consort. He seems like a fellow I would share a bit of candy with. The rest of the characters are a likable enough lot, but would I spend another 224 pages with them? I don’t think so. I certainly couldn’t read this book again. As much as I wanted to, I just couldn’t give this a 3 rating. Sigh. For some of you, perhaps, just the fantasy aspect alone will make the story acceptable or better. For everyone else, I will recommend Cummings Wolf’s-own series to start with. Those books contain remarkable stories, with memorable characters and a substantial, intricate plot that flows through the series. Read those and leave this one alone.
Cover art by Paul Richmond. The cover is delightful, light in tone and design.