A Fantasy Thriller about Books:  Emma Torzs’s “Ink Blood Sister Scribe”

You’re in the mood to read a thriller.  John Le Carre?  Mick Herron?   

I recommend Emma Torzs’s Ink Blood Sister Scribe,  a fantasy thriller about magical libraries. 

The novel focuses on two sisters, Esther and Joanna, who, unbeknownst to them, are in danger because of their father’s small  collection of magical books of spells.  A charming  English tycoon, the owner of the largest library of magical books in the world,  desperately wants one of the books and will not stop at violence.  He is also hunting for scribes who use their blood as ink in writing spells. Scribes are rare: to put it mildly, scribes bleed out.

There is no bookish coziness in Torzs’s spare, atmospheric, haunting prose. The suspenseful plot moves swiftly and horrifically, and there is a threat behind the most ordinary encounters. Books are used for malign purposes.

 And Esther is on the run.  She doesn’t know why  but her father warned her that she would be killed if she didn’t move to a different place every November.  And since no one, not even her father, knows why she is the target, her younger sister, Joanna, feels abandoned and stranded. Their father is killed by the tycoon’s coveted spell book, and Joanna is left alone to care for the magical library.  She has no human contact: she feeds a stray cat, but rarely leaves home.

Part One begins at the South Pole station in Antarctica, where Esther has worked as an electrician for a year.  She loves the dramatic color of the sky.  “It was a variegated blue, almost white where it met the snowy horizon but deepening as Esther’s eyes followed it upward:  from robin’s egg cerulean to a calm, luminous azure.  Beneath it the Antarctic ice was blindingly bright…”

 It is November, but Esther has decided to break the rules and sign on for another year.  She is taking a risk, but does not want to leave her lover, Pearl.  For so many years she has left people behind.  She feels she has to stay.

To put it mildly, this is a mistake.  Now she is really on the run, pursued by people with powers she doesn’t understand. And there is the feel of a dark fairy tale, as magic mirrors come into play.

She has two allies, Nicholas, a scribe, and his bodyguard, Collins.  They are bewildered by the instructions from Maram, the manager of Nicholas’s uncle’s magical library, but they gallantly fly with Esther from New Zealand to the U.S. and escort her to her home in Vermont.

Although Nicholas is one of the main characters, alas! he is less vividly drawn than the two sisters.  He is, more or less, a plot device. But I still enjoyed the book thoroughly.

Why should you read this novel?  For Torz’s prose,  for the mysterious revelations about the characters, and of course for the books.

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