“What if being a librarian was the most dangerous job in the world?”
I would be lying if I said that the tagline above wasn’t the only reason I needed to pick up Worldsoul. Thankfully, the tagline is not the only reason to keep on reading. A novel about the power of stories and the value of knowledge, where nightmares, dreams, archetypes, characters and stray tales come to life, or die forever, where librarians are kick-ass warriors from the Good Side of the Force, Worldsoul is an immensely diverting book, albeit not one without its hiccups.
Check out the last Book Smugglers on John Scalzi's 'Redshirts.'
Worldsoul is a great city that sits at a point where multiple dimensions converge between Earth and the Liminality, a place of magic woven from legends and myths from Earth. One year before the novel starts the mysterious Skein, those who govern Worldsoul completely disappeared, leaving a power vacuum that many key players hope to fill.
One of those key players is Jonathan Deed, the Abbot General of the Court and a man with a plan, which involves the trickster god Loki. Another is librarian Mercy Frane who, aided by her Ka and with her trusty Irish sword, takes it upon herself to investigate the sudden appearance inside the Library of a creature from the North, an escapee from a tale from Section C. Her investigation leads her to cross paths with Shadow, a female Muslim Alchemist who has become unwillingly connected to the Shah of the Medina, because of his troubles with an ifrit (a type of Jinn).
Incidentally, Gremory, a demon and female Duke from Hell, has also just been tasked with finding this same ifrit. In the meantime, there are those who are trying to find the Skein (like Mercy’s two mothers) before it is too late or at least before the lethal flower-bombs that suddenly appear across the city destroy everything. And that’s just the beginning.
This might sound like a lot of different characters and plotlines, but one of the strengths of Worldsoul is the author Liz Williams’ adroit control of multiple parallel but not unrelated points of view—all without relying on exposition or info-dumps, no less. Although it was a bit confusing and overwhelming to be suddenly dropped into this world without a firm guide, Worldsoul's lack of exposition is actually part of the fun of the novel. Readers are completely immersed in the book, and thus become a part of Worldsoul itself. Since our Earth—its myths, archetypes and stories—are so deeply connected to Worldsoul, it becomes increasingly easier to understand the world and the characters’ motivations (not to be mention fun, as we begin to recognize the tales from whence these characters emerged).
That said, I often found myself wondering, if Earth informs so much of Worldsoul and its own peoples and stories, why are there so few of Earth's more negative aspects? Worldsoul seems to have no sexism, no bigotry and no racism, or, if it does, these aspects are neither overt nor preponderant. Mind you, I do find awesome how much this particular story is diverse in terms of race, religion, gender and sexual identity. But considering how everything stems from Earth it feels as though Worldsoul is an idealized version of a perfect Earth where all religious, myths, people, stories coexist almost in complete peace. That is, if you don’t count the search for absolute power, which seems to be the driving force behind all different beings. I am not sure yet if this is on purpose as an intrinsic part of the overall arc because there are several pieces of the puzzle that are missing. Or perhaps a better metaphor would be: there are pages missing from this tale.
Worldsoul is therefore very much a first book in a trilogy. Much of it reads as introduction or setup, and many things are left unsaid and undisclosed. It does work as a standalone—barely—but in truth Worldsoul is obviously a tasty appetizer. The possibilities for Worldsoul are infinite, and I suspect that, much in the way that she does with her storybook characters, Williams can take this series anywhere she wants. I will have my seconds, thank you very much.
And if you are wondering how being a librarian could be the most dangerous job in the world, the answer is simple—knowledge is power. If you work at the oldest, most complete Library in the known world, chances are, you will probably need to protect it at one point or another from those who seek to destroy it, corrupt it or to simply take it.
In Book Smugglerish, Worldsoul gets a tentative 7 out of 10.