First, a great quote from Shelf Awareness:
"It is actually the last few lines from the novel The Cunning Man by
Robertson Davies: "This is the Great Theatre of Life. Admission is free
but the taxation is mortal. You come when you can, and leave when you
must. The show is continuous." Those were the last lines of the last
novel Davies published before his death. What a great exit speech for a
Next, Libyrinth is a marvelous YA Science Fiction/Fantasy novel, fashioned along the lines of "The City of Ember" and "Logan's Run" with some "Harry Potter" and "Lathe of Heaven" thrown in for good measure (plus a pinch of Ray Bradbury's wonderful early short stories, like "The Veldt").
The novel takes place in a post apocalyptic future, where one entire city has become a library maze whose depth has yet to be plumbed or cataloged. There is another city that is filled with religious illiterate zealots called "Eradicants" who insist on a tribute burning of books once a year at the libyrinth. There are two other cities, one run by a corrupt empress, and the other run by eradicants, but both end up playing a part in the denoument of the story.
Haly is libyrinth-born, though an orphan, who works as a clerk for the Libyrarian Selene. Haly has the ability to 'hear' the words of a book or letter or any printed material without opening it, and yet she has found that there is only one person she can trust who actually believes in her talent, and that is her friend the kitchen pot-scrubber, Claudia.
Haly hears a letter that tells the Eradicants where the coveted "Book of the Night" is hidden, and realizes that if the Eradicants get the ability to make 'energy eggs' and learn other secrets the book has to offer, they will destroy the Libyrinth and all her friends with their fanatical belief that to burn a book is to 'liberate' the words inside, and that reading will make you blind and is wrong. Haly and Selene and Claudia head out on a quest to reach the book before the Eradicants, and gain the help of Selene's mother, the empress of another city. On their way, Haly and Claudia are captured by the Eradicants, and though Claudia escapes, Haly is tortured into telling the Eradicants of her gift, and is then hailed as the prophet who will bring the Book of Night alive for the Eradicants and help them destroy the Libyrinth. Meanwhile, Claudia discovers that she is gay, and that she can run ancient technology. Haly discovers that an acolyte of the Eradicants is actually a good guy who is her age, and once she teaches him to read, their romance blossoms. The Eradicants believe that their Redemption will come at Haly's reading of the Book of Night, and after they destroy the libyrinth and 'free the words' inside.
What ends up happening is much more than either girl bargained for...the Redemption brings with it a melding of people and literacy that leaves the reader grateful for the gift of understanding words printed on paper.
North has written a solid book here, with strong, clean and clear prose that keeps the plot flowing in a stately fashion until the rapids at the end. I would recommend it to young bibilophiles everywhere, especially young people who are members of a strict religion, because this book makes you think about who is making the rules, how they are enforcing them, and why. There's no sex or bad language to worry about, either, other than a few kisses and the Claudia's realization that she likes girls instead of boys. I'd give the book a B plus or an A minus, mainly because the ending was a bit of a muddle, and so much new information is thrown at the reader when it is hard to discern what is really going on. Still, it is well worth the time to take a stroll through this fascinating libyrinth.