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The Untold Story

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The Untold Story

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Author: Genevieve Cogman
Publisher: Ace Books, 2022
Pan Books, 2022
Series: The Invisible Library: Book 8
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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Synopsis

Irene is trying to learn the truth about Alberich-and the possibility that he's her father. But when the Library orders her to kill him, and then Alberich himself offers to sign a truce, she has to discover why he originally betrayed the Library.

With her allies endangered and her strongest loyalties under threat, she'll have to trace his past across multiple worlds and into the depths of mythology and folklore, to find the truth at the heart of the Library, and why the Library was first created.


Excerpt

PE 1

The snow hissed against the windows, flakes visible in the harsh spotlights which ringed the building. Irene could dimly make out the well-groomed gardens outside and the faint outline of the ornamental lake-and beyond that the guard outposts, the high walls, and everything necessary to keep this manor house and estate private and undisturbed. The trail of darkness across the white lawn-fresh blood, left behind by the corpse which had been dragged across it-was rapidly being covered by the snow.

She couldn't see the Siberian dire wolves, but she'd been assured they were out there. To be honest, she wasn't even sure that dire wolves were or could be Siberian, but as the saying went, Don't contradict an autocrat on his own territory unless you have either a very good reason or a very secure escape route.

At this precise moment she didn't have either of those. While the mansion did have a library, it was one of the few rooms she was strictly forbidden from entering. A logical precaution-after all, they knew she was a Librarian, and she could use a smaller library in any of the alternate worlds, like this one, to enter the secret interdimensional Library that was her home. A place that was, at the moment, very far away.

Suppressing a sigh, she turned away from the window and wandered back toward the fireplace. Newspapers were available-foreign ones like the Times or the Observer, Le Monde or the Wall Street Journal, as well as Russian ones-and she could always do the crosswords or read about the current state of the world while she waited for the master of the house.

Irene wasn't a prisoner-but she wasn't exactly a guest, either. She was an intermediary who'd been summoned to do a job, and while that secured her a safe-conduct, it also meant that her personal wishes weren't priorities. It wasn't so much the enforced inactivity or even the dangers of the locale that were driving her up the wall: it was the constant circling of her mind around the possibility that most of her life had been a lie.

She'd found out that Alberich, oldest and most dangerous traitor to the Library, might be her father. She'd come back from her latest mission desperate to know more, with urgent questions for all the senior Librarians, who must have been covering it up. She'd sent messages to her parents-the ones who'd raised her, whom she considered her real parents-to ask what they knew. But she'd barely had enough time to get her most recent injuries bandaged when she'd been sent on this solo job, well before any answers could reach her. Words such as desperately urgent and vitally important had been used; she hadn't been quite ready to disregard her orders and refuse to go.

Her friends had understood that. Kai-ex-apprentice, dragon prince, friend, and lover-had promised to find out anything he could. In the meantime, she was stuck on this mission with no way of leaving, and no way to answer the questions which overshadowed her entire life.

To add insult to injury, it wasn't even a mission to collect a book-her usual sort of mission as a Librarian was acquiring a unique book (legally or not) from a particular world. The Library's collection of stories allowed it to maintain the balance between all the alternate worlds; Irene wasn't entirely clear how it worked, but it demonstrably did. This, on the other hand, was a matter of politics, something on which she'd been spending far too much time recently. Something which the Library itself seemed to be far too involved in of late...

The door swung open, and she hastily modified her expression to one of mild curiosity, looking up from the newspaper to see who it was.

The elderly lady who entered was almost the complete opposite of the large man who held the door for her. He was muscled and blonde, with bulk that even a well-cut suit couldn't hide; she was petite with waved white hair and wore an artfully rustic outfit which Irene identified as genuine silks and velvets. Irene suspected that the two did have one thing in common, the same thing as everyone in the house. Crime.

The man nodded to Irene as she rose politely from her chair. His name was Ernst, and while she wouldn't have said she knew him well, she was sure that she could trust him. He was one of the henchmen of the Fae master who owned this dacha-this Russian country estate and second home-and he was responsible for Irene's visit. "Sorry you've had to wait," he said in Russian. "The boss is busy."

"These things happen," Irene replied in the same language. "I understand he's a very busy man." After all, being an archetypal crime boss who coordinated activities across multiple worlds was the sort of thing which occupied a person's time.

Ernst shrugged. "Only two executions so far today. Traitors never put him in a good mood."

The woman's eyes narrowed as she considered Irene, taking in her neat but only modestly expensive clothing, her tidily cut short hair, and her generally sober appearance. A good trouser suit was acceptable in many parts of the twentieth or twenty-first centuries: easy to pack and very convenient for running away in. "Ah. An independent? Or are you representing an organization?" She tilted her head to look up at Ernst. "I wasn't told about her."

"Madam, you know the boss doesn't like me telling anyone about anything," Ernst said. "It's not in the job description."

"The Observer crossword is still available," Irene said helpfully. "Or do you prefer sudoku?" However harmless the woman looked, she must be as dangerous as everyone else in this house.

"I'd prefer conversation. But I don't think I'm going to get it."

"There will be drinks after supper for those who are still alive," Ernst rumbled cheerfully. "In the meantime, the boss has time for Miss Winters now."

"Then I won't keep him waiting," Irene said, following him out of the room.

The house itself was two things: expensive and defensible. It was as if someone had gone to an architect and said, Give me something that looks like pre-Revolution French royalty's worst excesses, but laid out strategically so my private guards can fill any intruders so full of lead that they could be used for church roofing. Ernst and Irene passed several loitering pairs of guards on their way, all of them on the alert. It made Irene rather glad she wasn't trying to steal any books from here.

"The boss is not in the best of moods," Ernst said quietly, as they approached a heavy wooden door flanked by two alert-looking guards. "Mind your manners, Librarian girl, and don't expect any decisions tonight."

"I'm touched by your concern," Irene said, only half joking.

"Concern, bah. I was the one who advised in favor of your visit. I do not want to be in trouble because of it."

"Enlightened self-interest is one of my favorite motivations. I can work with that."

"Good. I was afraid you were still sulking because you couldn't bring dragon boy with you." The invitation here had been for Irene alone, with specific instructions that no other "assistants, bodyguards, assassins, handmaids, secretaries, bedwarmers, experts, or other supernumeraries" were permitted.

"I'm not the one who's sulking," Irene said. "He was. He's sure I'll get into trouble without him."

"Bah. From what I have seen of you both, I have no doubt he will get into just as much trouble without you."

"That's not exactly reassuring, Ernst."

"Reassuring is not my job. Brutal practicality is. I would say that you should try it, but..." He shrugged. "Today you are a diplomat, Librarian girl. Be diplomatic."

One of the guards gave them a nod. Ernst opened the door and Irene walked in.

It was a room designed for secret discussions and interrogations. The overhead lights had been turned down, leaving the ceiling and corners in shadows, and the flames leaping up in the fireplace warmed the room but did little to illuminate it. While there were a couple of free standing lamps by the armchairs near the fire and another over by the desk in the corner, they were arranged to light the area near them rather than to make it easy for intruders or visitors to inspect the surroundings. Irene cataloged the room with the experience of a spy and the personal interest of someone who wanted to stay alive and might have to escape in a hurry. Four people-one man at the desk, two bulky figures, gender uncertain, in the far corners, and most importantly, the elderly man in one of the armchairs by the fire. A couple of white tiger skins were spread across the dark wood of the floor, their glass eyes glittering as they caught the light.

"Come in, Librarian," her host said. "You have my permission to sit."

"Thank you, sir." Irene preferred to begin meetings politely and get ruder if the situation demanded it: it was much more awkward to start off by being rude and then try to raise the level of courtesy when you realized that you were in trouble. She approached the fire, conscious that everyone was watching her, and took a seat in the waiting armchair. "How should I address you?"

"You can call me..." He paused, considering. The firelight made a relief map of his wrinkles, hiding any genuine expression behind the mask of extreme age. Liver spots stained his bald scalp, and his hands were gnarled and arthritic-though still, Irene thought, quite capable of firing a gun. "'Boss' would be inappropriate, wouldn't it? After all, you're not working for me. But I've moved beyond the necessity for an actual name. Why don't you call me... Uncle."

Beyond the necessity for a name, you say? I don't think that's completely accurate, Irene decided. She'd met quite a few Fae by now. As they grew in power and fell more deeply into the patterns of their narrative archetype, they discarded or hid their original names. First they used pseudonyms, then they moved all the way to titles such as the Cardinal or the Princess as they reached the peak of their power. By the time they'd achieved that level, they were walking embodiments of whatever stereotype they'd chosen to become. The world bent itself around them to make their stories come true.

Her host wasn't quite there yet. The name she'd been told earlier, "Mr. Orlov," was a pseudonym rather than a title. Still, she didn't want to offend him. The sooner she could get this done with, the sooner she'd be out of here. "As you wish, uncle. Thank you for being kind enough to receive me here as a guest."

"It's always pleasant to have young people like yourself around the house," he said, his tone appropriately avuncular. He leaned forward. "Now, Librarian. How do I know you're not here to betray me?"

That was... rather more direct than Irene had expected. She answered with similar frankness. "What would I have to gain by that?"

He leveled a finger at her. "You have a reputation, Librarian. I've seen the files on you."

"What a shame that I never get to," Irene said regretfully. "Whenever I ask for them, people start talking about burn before reading and over my dead body and so on."

"Personal name, Irene. Aliases including Irene Winters and Clarice Backson. One of the Library's most efficient thieves, recently turned diplomat in line with the Library's interesting new policies, and currently the Library treaty representative on this three-member commission for the dragon-Fae peace treaty."

Irene spread her hands. "I'd have thought you'd appreciate efficiency, uncle."

"Depends on whether I can use it or not. If it's being turned against me, then that means you're my first target."

A cold thread of nervousness spread its way down Irene's back, mapping every inch of her spine. She'd thought this was a comparatively safe assignment-though negotiating with a powerful Fae was never truly safe. "I thought you asked for me personally, uncle. Why invite me to your home if you think I'm an enemy?"

He chuckled, and the sound was more resonant than his age would have suggested. "Maybe I want to see how serious the Library is about getting people to sign their 'peace treaty.' If they're prepared to send one of their best agents, then I'm prepared to give it some consideration. Assuming you're the real Irene Winters."

"Rather than an assassin traveling under her name, here to kill you and place the blame on the Library?" Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the two watching bodyguards tense. She'd hoped the joke might amuse him, but it clearly hadn't amused them.

"Are you?" He paused. "I understand the situation if you are, but in that case I need to reconsider my attitude-and whether you'll be going out of here with an employment contract, or feet first."

Irene tried to pick her way through the possible answers to the question. Remind me not to make clever jokes with people who can snap their fingers and order me killed. "I'm a thief and a spy," she finally said, "not an assassin. And I'm definitely Irene Winters."

"Good, good. So let's consider what you can offer me." His tone was cheerful enough, but Irene could hear the subtext beneath it. Show me that you're not wasting my time.

She put on a smile. She was good at smiling, especially when faced with people who could kill her. "The Library's position is that a truce is good for everyone. We're not making any judgments about previous hostilities between dragons and Fae, and we freely admit that many of them may be entirely justified. What we're trying to stop is the sort of random aggression which doesn't achieve anything and which causes needless collateral harm and destruction."

Specifically, harm and destruction to humans. Not to the dragons, creatures of order who could command the elements and who could simply fly off to another world if their power base was destroyed. Nor to the Fae, creatures of chaos and narrative archetype, who'd be almost as happy with a dramatic loss as with a dramatic victory, so long as it was entertaining. It was the humans in the middle, spread across the countless alternate worlds, who went about their lives without knowing that they were being used as pawns by both sides. Stabilizing the alternate worlds and protecting the humans in them was the Library's mission-previously performed via stealing unique books from those worlds, but now with a side option of diplomacy.

In fact, it felt these days as if diplomacy was the main option and stealing unique books had turned into the sideline.

Copyright © 2022 by Genevieve Cogman


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