Thursday, July 14, 2016

REVIEW: Sword in the Stacks by Jen Swann Downey (Ninja Librarians #2)

Sword in the Stacks
Ninja Librarians #2
Jen Swann Downey
4/5 stars

(from PR Letterhead)
Shelve This Book Under “D” for Dangerous. 
(Also daring, dramatic, dashing, daft, and dazzling!)

After stumbling upon the secret society of time-traveling ninja librarians, Dorrie has finally joined Petrarch’s Library as an apprentice! One day, she’ll actually go on missions to rescue

people whose words have gotten them into trouble. For now she’s taking some interesting classes: 
  • First and Last Aid: When Nobody Else is Coming 
  • Spears, Axes, and Cats: Throwing Objects with Precision and Flair
  • Codes, Invisible Inks, and Smoke Signals: Keeping Secrets 101

But on a training mission to 1912 England, Dorrie finds herself dangerously close to a member of the Stronghold – the Library’s biggest enemy. This is her opportunity! Dorrie can spy on the enemy, find the missing key…and become a real Lybrarian!

But if she makes a mistake, Dorrie could lead their enemy right to the very place she’s trying to save…and everyone she cares about.

Thanks, NetGalley! They provided me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I'm very happy to say I was NOT disappointed in this sequel.

Let me explain. I've been obsessing over the first book in this series for almost two years, and when a reader obsesses like that -thinking back on all the great moments, good story, and fun characters- that same reader might possibly unintentionally set that book on a pedestal that the sequel just can't compete with.

With that first book on a pedestal or not, Sword in the Stacks was magnificent.

Picking up pretty much where we left off, Dorrie and Marcus must convince their parents to allow them to apprentice with the time-hopping, evil-fighting, censorship-opposing Lybrarians out to save the world -one piece of writing at a time.

Not only is this sequel magnificent, I might actually like it better than the original. Aside from the great story it tells -the daring adventures! the madcap run-ins with famous historical figures! the inevitable breaking of rules and general child-hero mayhem!- it really delves into a side of Librarianship that's important to understand: A complete lack of censorship.

Ever since discovering the series, I wondered how Downey was going to handle this specific aspect of her concept. The idea of the world-saving Lybrariad is that these heroic Lybrarians travel through time trying to save endangered writings and/or authors, whether from destruction, censorship, or death. This is fantastic when a Lybrarian saves an essay on human kindness or a book on anti-slavery, but what about works that hold disagreeable or downright horrible ideas? Downey jumped right in to address the Lybrariad's stance and I feel much more comfortable in this world now, knowing that there isn't any agenda-pushing going on here; instead, the Lybrarians of Petrach's Library -while themselves cannot be unbiased- strive to protect all writings despite their bias. This is, understandably, a tricky concept to portray, especially in middle grade, but Downey handled it with considerable tact and grace -plus she twisted it into another of her lovable madcap adventures!

(I keep using the word 'madcap', I know. Pretty sure that's an effect of the secret room that Dorrie, Ebba, and Marcus find, and the fact that they dub it the 'Scooby-Doo library'.)

There was one other thing I longed to see in this book and my wish was granted.
We get to learn a little more about Millie. In the first book, she was the snotty brat who gave Dorrie such a hard time on her last visit to the Lybrariad, also implying that Dorrie wasn't good enough to qualify as an apprentice on her own merit. Once we found out she was the daughter of the Lybrariad's head of security, I've been dying to know more about her! There's the obvious 'mean girl' conflict here, but what I found most intriguing about it is Dorrie's stubborn desire to win Millie over. Instead of letting Millie bait her into fighting, or giving her the cold-shoulder in turn, Dorrie is determined to make friends with Millie, whether Millie likes it or not. Even in the first book, I found this adorable and refreshing, and I liked seeing more of this genuine kindness in Dorrie's character. I look forward to seeing where Downey will take these characters next.

Speaking of characters, I must admit my disappointment at Marcus. As fun as he remains in the sequel, and still as true to character, not a single Star Wars quote passed his lips. Not. A. Single. One. He's the same Marcus we know and love, up to his old shenanigans, he's just got some different obsessions now. Teenagers, right?

Last, but not least, concerning our favorite Lybrarian: Much as I love Hercule-Savinien de Cyran de Bergerac -with his expert swordsmanship, magnificent schnoz, fantastically ridiculous name, and swoon-worthy vocabulary- I enjoyed seeing Dorrie cope through most of the adventure without him. With the Lybrariad working double-time to solve the mysteries of the Foundation's return, most of their Lybrarians are hunting down clues, including her beloved Savi. And who does Dorrie wind up working with? Well, I won't spoil that. But this unexpected change in mentors forces Dorrie to face her disappointment, some of her self-doubt, and preconceived notions. Again, I adore Savi, not only because he's awesome, but because he's also a wise and patient mentor to Dorrie, but I liked that Dorrie has a chance to work with others, to maybe realize that she doesn't have to rely on just one mentor. I also think it taught her to rely a little more on herself.

To sum up? Another fantastic, hilarious adventure, with plenty of drama and intrigue -high stakes! high seas!- and good lessons learned all around.

The Ninja Librarians is a glorious mix of time travel, historical fiction, and the "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?" game I loved as a child -this series knows no bounds!
I see kids all the time at my library devouring Mary Pope Osborne's Magic Treehouse books and I can't wait until their old enough I can switch them over to these.
[Dorrie's father] "Where did you meet these people?"
"In a dark alley," said Marcus. "They leaned out of a van and offered us a candy."
"He's kidding, he's kidding!" cried Dorrie.
Seriously, I adore Marcus!

Who is your favorite librarian character of all time?
(Admittedly, mine is probably Spud Murphy.)

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