Monday, 14 April 2014

Review: The Forbidden Library by Django Wexler

Do you remember the first time you climbed into the wardrobe with Lucy and emerged in Narnia? Flew on the back of Falkor the Luck Dragon with Bastian? Followed Alice down the rabbit hole? Welcome to your new favourite adventure.

Late one night Alice Creighton hears her father having an argument with a fairy - a snarling, bald beast with warts and needle-like teeth. It is threatening her father, insisting he accept a mysterious offer, or else.

When Alice's father goes down in a shipwreck, she is sent away to live with distant relative Mr Geryon, owner of a huge, dark library that is off limits to Alice. After meeting a talking cat who is willing to sneak her in, Alice opens a book and suddenly finds herself inside it - and the only way out is by conquering the dangerous creatures within. Alice has stumbled into a world where all of magic is controlled by Readers through books - she must open more books, face increasingly powerful foes, be the lead character in the quest to find a happy ending.

How many times have you read a book and wished that you could be literally sucked into the story to get the girl/boy, kill the baddies and save the world? I cannot believe that there is a single lover of fiction out there who has not at some point in time wished this could happen. if you're now sitting there nodding your head with a far-away look in your eye and a wishful smile on your face then you need to read The Forbidden Library by Django Wexler as it is a dream come true for book lovers, child and adult alike.

I'm not going to go into too many details about the story as the above publisher's blurb tells you all you need to know. When I read The Forbidden Library I was very much reminded of the first time I read Michael Ende's The Neverending Story. (By the way, if you or your children have not read this book and only seen the film then I urge you to get your hands on a copy at some point. However, don't do this until you've read The Forbidden Library as, once you get past the part that is covered in the (IMO brilliant) 1980s movie, things become more complex and the book morphs from being upper Middle Grade into lower YA, and The Forbidden Library is very much Middle Grade territory). However, that was many years ago and so it is difficult to compare the two books in detail. All I will say is that I remember the warm, magical glow I felt as Bastian started realising that he had become part of the story, and I experienced that exact same feeling as I read The Forbidden Library.

Doubleday have drawn some daring comparisons with the blurb (see above) that they have used for this book. To reference the Narnia stories, The Neverending Story and Alice in Wonderland in their opening paragraph is a bold move that could have reviewers up in arms, and yet this reviewer feels that The Forbidden Library compares incredibly favourably with these classics of the genre. With so many books published for chidlren these days it is impossible to idnetify which ones will stand the test of time and become recognised as 'classics', but The Forbidden Library is certainly deserving of becoming a classic in the future, in my humble opinion. These days I always give a book I have finished a starred rating on Goodreads, but I rarely mention those ratings on here. However, I rated this book five stars and, as happens with a very small number of books, I would like to have given it a sixth to distinguish it from some of the other books I have rated five stars. 

The other day I wrote a lengthy post about my favourite female protagonists in books for young readers, as part of the Boys Read Girls campaign, and after it went live I mentioned to a fellow Tweeter that no doubt I would remember another one the next day. Well I did exactly that - Alice in The Forbidden Library is up there with all the female characters that I mentioned in that post (and I may just head over to that post after finishing this review to add her). She is courageous, intelligent, resourceful and inquisitive and the kind of character that will have both boys and girls rooting for her as she fights for her life, and agonising with her as she has to grapple with a number of moral dilemmas that are thrown at her during the course of her adventures.

The world that Django Wexler has built for his character to adventure through is even cooler than his name. It is a world where magic revolves around books - not as repositories for spells, but as magical items in their own right. In this world books are portals to the worlds mentioned within, and those with the magical ability to read about and then enter these worlds are known as Readers. However, as Alice very quickly finds out, entry into some of these books can be at a huge cost. Some of these books contain creatures that must be conquered in order for the Reader to be able to return to the real world. However, Wexler adds a further twist to his magic, in that once conquered these creatures fall under the control of the Reader in question, and can be summoned to assist in further adventures. This is where the author has great fun with his main character and her conquests - I won't spoil the fun for you by going into details, but the Swarm are both a terrifying creation and an incredibly exciting one.

I can't finish off this review without a mention of the amazing pen and ink illustrations of David Wyatt, of which there are sadly not enough in this book, for this reader at least (yes, I am greedy). Lovers of modern children's books will recognise the name immediately - David is a prolific illustrator of children's book covers, and occasionally their interiors. Just head on over to his website to see his work and you will understand what I mean. You can also head on over to Django's website to see the full set of illustrations, two of which I will put at the end of this review. This book is the complete package as everything about it is stunning: the writing; the illustrations; and the outer packaging too, which is a stunning hardcover, without dustjacket, with the title, author's name and surrounding decorative border all highlighted with gold hot-foil blocking. Well done indeed, Doubleday!

Someone else who deserves a mention before I finish this review is the totally brilliant Lauren Buckland, Senior Editor at Random House Children's Publishing. Lauren told me I would love this book, long before I got my hands on a copy, and she was 100% correct. Again! Every time Lauren tells me this about a book then I know that I am going to love it - Lauren has edited some of my favourite books that I have read since I started blogging and she (along with many editors out there) deserves far more recognition that she gets. Thanks Lauren! (P.S. When's the sequel due? I honestly can't wait!)

Illustration by David Wyatt

Illustration by David Wyatt


  1. Great review! I loved the book so much too and can't wait for the sequel to come out. I just had a quick question about your editor friend, Lauren. I'm new to the blogging community and am trying to find connections to start receiving ARC's to review. Reading is honestly my passion (as it is with many i'm sure) and I would love to get involved with the editors. Any advice or help you can offer is greatly appreciated :)

    Xoxo. Alexis @ Lexi Swoons

  2. Read this book to my class of 11 to 13 year olds and they loved it. Beautifully written - kept both the boys and girls interested and really having to think. Highly recommended as a teacher read aloud.

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