“Stories matter – telling them, sharing them, preserving them, changing them, learning from them, and escaping with and through them. We learn about ourselves and the world that we live in through fiction just as much as through facts. Empathy, perception and understanding are never wasted. All libraries are a gateway into other worlds, including the past – and the future.”
It’s been a while since I’ve read a book that featured a passage good enough for an opening quote. And the above passage is just from the Cogman’s acknowledgements at the very beginning. Fortunately, the implicit promise given holds true for this sixth instalment of the series.
Originally, I intended to give this book four stars, maybe mention it’s more like 4.5 but when I thought about what’s missing in this book for the fifth full star, I couldn’t really think of anything. Yes, there’s not much “philosophical depth” to be found in “The Secret Chapter” but when I contemplated that, I realised I’m perfectly fine with that – the entire series is a lot of fun and yet gives some food for thought and sometimes that’s enough.
“The Secret Chapter” is much like its predecessors: Irene’s and Kai’s dynamics are there and some of the others, e. g. Silver and Vale, are making an appearance. Vale, unfortunately, doesn’t feature prominently in this book but considering what it’s about, this makes sense.
Because this time, Irene is sent to acquire a book by doing a Fae lord a favour by stealing a painting. Doesn’t sound very exciting? Well, Irene needs the book to save an entire world; in fact, a world that used to be her safe haven in complicated times – she went to school there and it helped in lot in shaping her. Thus, a heist is planned in the vein of the heist films of old, e. g. “Rififi” or “The Sting”, with a gang consisting of Fae, Irene, Kai – and a rogue dragon! Starts sounding more interesting, eh?
The job seems to go quite well up to a certain turning point at which an already suspenseful novel takes a turn into a fast-paced action thriller which is quite refreshing. Nevertheless, just as I would have hoped and expected, the aptly-named “The Secret Chapter” ultimately turns out to be much more than “just” a heist story or an action thriller. Satisfyingly, it succeeds as well in incorporating Irene’s parents into the story in a good and believable way.
As if all that wasn’t enough, the trademark humour of the series is there as well:
“‘Kai! There’s been a palace revolution and the peasants are attacking!’ Kai gave a deep shuddering sigh and finally opened his eyes properly. ‘Execute them all in the public square,’ he mumbled, clearly still half-asleep.”
If I had to find fault with this book, I’d probably point out that while Irene and Kai are obviously devoted to each other, there are reservations on both their parts. They keep secrets from each other and that’s fine – we all do. The motivation is what counts, though, and at least Irene’s reason to hold back is – at least in part – mistrust or maybe insecurity. I can’t really define it but by the sixth book, I would have wished for more trust and intimacy.
I also like Cogman’s take on Brexit – especially in the grim light of the result of yesterday’s (12.12.2019) general election in the UK:
“‘The United Kingdom?’ ‘Very strongly tied to Europe, which is why CENSOR has an English name and acronym. It did attempt to leave the European Union last year, but apparently that was prompted by demonic interference. A lot of politicians were subsequently tried for treason and beheaded at the Tower of London.’”
While I don’t condone the beheading, I certainly think the divisive short-sighted tactics of a certain hare-brained prime minister will lead to disaster for those who just elected him.
Anyway, coming back to the book, it ends with a twist that I didn’t see coming at all – a twist that isn’t a big deal in an immediate or urgent sense but it has the potential to upset the precious balance that has only so recently been achieved among the worlds and factions.
And yet, it all fits satisfyingly together naturally and in a strangely uplifting way. It’s probably helped by the personal growth Irene shows at the end:
“‘Mother, please, hear me out. If there’s something I’ve learned over the last few years, it’s that everything people do is important. I happen to have chosen this particular thing to do with my life, and I was lucky enough to have the choice.”
Whole-heartedly recommended without reservation to any fan of the series; recommend with minor reservations to those who haven’t read “The Secret Chapter”’s predecessors yet. You would miss out on a lot of minor things so go and read this entire series.
“‘Life was much easier before I had to worry about everyone else worrying,’ Irene muttered. ‘It’s called growing up, dear. It comes with staying alive.’”