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Libyrinth
Pearl North
Tor, 335 pages

Libyrinth
Pearl North
Pearl North (aka Anne Harris) has written fantasy and science fiction for adults under a different name. Libyrinth is her first young adult novel. She lives outside of Detroit, Michigan.

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A review by Charlene Brusso

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This YA science fiction story is a coming-of-age story about girls. It's also the story of a far future world of bibliophiles and bibliophobes in conflict, a uniquely broken world coming to terms with its own bitter past.

15-year-old Haly is a clerk in the Libyrinth, a vast underground library of Earth lore and knowledge brought long ago to this colony world. From her earliest memories, Haly has been able to "hear" the Libyrinth's books. They speak to her, reciting their contents, as lively and full of personality, from warm and comforting to stodgy and pedantic, as any family you might imagine.

But not everyone treasures this repository of ancient knowledge. The Eradicants, theocrats devoted to oral tradition, prize information as much as the Libryrians, but they pass it on as music, encoding everything from medicine to electrical engineering in song. The Eradicants would like nothing better than to wipe the unholy Libyrinth from the face of the planet, but first they want to find the legendary Book of Night, which supposedly contains the true history of the world's early days, and the schism that divided the planet's inhabitants into pro and anti-book forces. In the meantime, the Libyrinth survives by sacrificing books to the Eradicants' annual bonfires. Then Haly learns of a plot by the Eradicants to steal The Book of Night and destroy the Libyrinth. Along with her resourceful friend Clauda, a kitchen drudge too smart for the crushing servitude she's been born into, Haly sets off to foil the scheme, only to become a prisoner of the Eradicants. Then they learn of her ability to 'hear' books, and Haly finds herself in a dangerous position -- one which could save the Libyrinth and broker peace between the warring groups -- if only it doesn't get her burned at the stake first.

Meanwhile Clauda discovers an ancient weapon that could devastate the enemies of the Libyrinth, if she can learn how to control it. With just these two characters, Pearl North effectively manages to set an entire world on the edge of disaster, or salvation. Both sides of the conflict treasure information and maintain rigid hierarchies that limit their growth, but neither can be complete without the other.

Pearl North's prose is smooth and her dialogue believable. Although the plot at times feels a bit manipulative, the characters ring true. The novel, with its dystopian society and intrepid orphans who save the day, works nicely as YA science fiction, but for older readers there is also the joy of finding evocative shout-outs and resonances with familiar classics, from Charlotte's Web and The Diary of Anne Frank to Fahrenheit 451 and of course A Canticle for Liebowitz. North has crafted a book that will appeal to readers of almost any age. After all, how can you not sympathize with a character who loves books?

Copyright © 2009 Charlene Brusso

Charlene's sixth grade teacher told her she would burn her eyes out before she was 30 if she kept reading and writing so much. Fortunately he was wrong. Her work has also appeared in Aboriginal SF, Amazing Stories, Dark Regions, MZB's Fantasy Magazine, and other genre magazines.


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