The Big Idea: Jim C. Hines

It’s no surprise that authors love books. But it might surprise you, in the context of Libriomancer, Jim C. Hines‘ newest novel, how the author’s love of books so directly shaped this particular novel. Or, perhaps, knowing authors, it might not surprise you at all.


There are two truths at the heart of Libriomancer. First, books are magical. And second, magic is awesome.

The former should be evident to anyone who watched bookstores throughout the world prepare for the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, or saw schoolkids gathering together to talk about the new Hunger Games book. Older readers might recall the way The Lord of the Rings swept through the United States when it was first published in this country.

As I wrote about Isaac Vainio, he began to epitomize that love of books. He was the part of me that read every book he could get his hands on. Even before he discovered the art of libriomancy, Isaac read every book in the SF/F section in his northern Michigan library. And then he discovered interlibrary loans, and there was no turning back. Like so many of us, he explored Middle Earth and Narnia and Neverland. He traveled by warp drive and tesseract and TARDIS.

I made that love of stories the key to Isaac’s magic. It’s what allows him to do what so many of us have dreamed of, to reach into the pages and create the things described within. To use the daydreams and the fantasies of other readers, all layered together and bound to those books. Libriomancy can create anything from magical flaming spiders to disruptor pistols (perfect for use against vampires) to winged sandals to a laser sword from a galaxy far, far away whose official name we won’t use because I tried very hard not to get sued while writing the book.

What I love about this idea is the way it engages our sense of wonder. Our need to ask “What if…?” There are so many possibilities to magic. There are limits too, of course. Isaac can only create things that would fit through the pages, so there’s no real way to build a shuttlecraft and fly to the moon. There are dangers as well. Intelligent minds can’t handle the transition from fiction to reality, so if you pluck a Smurf from the pages, it’s going to end badly for everyone. And then there’s the risk of reaching into a book like Twilight and either accidentally or deliberately infecting yourself with vampire venom. Suddenly you have sparkling vampires running through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

But Isaac loves it all. He loves magic. He loves the potential. At one point, he encounters a manananggal, a creature who literally rips herself in half, allowing the upper part of her body to fly about in order hunt and feed on blood and organs and unborn children. Isaac’s reaction isn’t terror or disgust, but delight. He’s amazed by the magic that lets the manananggal separate and reconnect her body, and wonders how such power might be used for magical surgeries and other purposes.

Even when running for his life, a part of Isaac will always be studying and admiring the creature trying to kill him.

So much of what I read these days feels dark and grim. There’s nothing wrong with that, but after a while I start to ask myself what happened to the joy? What happened to the awe and hope and discovery? Libriomancer, and Isaac in particular, is my love letter to that sense of wonder. To the part of our imagination that says, “If I were Harry Potter, I’d don a spacesuit and apparate to Mars, just to see what’s out there!” The part that pretends to use the force every time the elevator doors open, because for that one moment, the magic can be real.

Where would we be without that drive to explore and discover? Without that need to poke sticks into the dark corners or tug at the frayed edges of what we think we know? Some of my favorite scenes in the book are when Isaac stumbles across magic he thought was impossible. Because even when that magic is trying to destroy him (which happens far more often than he likes), it proves that the universe is bigger than he knew, and nothing makes him happier.

There’s so much I enjoyed about writing this novel. I got to write Smudge the fire-spider again. I haven’t even mentioned my butt-kicking dryad, or the psychiatrist who fights an uphill battle trying to keep the libriomancers sane, or the kidnapping of Johannes Gutenberg, or the vampire day care center.

But one of the best parts was getting to share Isaac’s joy, to rediscover the love of books and magic, and to remember that it is indeed awesome. And if I can share that love with readers, I consider that to be every bit as magical as anything Isaac does.


Libriomancer: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt (pdf link). Visit the author’s blog. Follow him on Twitter.

30 Comments on “The Big Idea: Jim C. Hines”

  1. Having been blessed and lucky (and the kindness of the author) to read an advance copy of this, I can tell you that Jim speaks truth here. Lovers of books, especially genre books, are going to eat Libriomancer up. Trust me.

  2. What happened to the awe and hope and discovery? Libriomancer, and Isaac in particular, is my love letter to that sense of wonder.

    Awesome. I’m absolutely picking this one up–I am always on the lookout for fantasy books that don’t make me feel like I’ve just gone through the Complete Works of Faulkner, as I have enough motivation to drink already, and this sounds particularly fantastic. Yay!

  3. I just finished a well written utterly depressing book…I will be buying this one today. Thanks!

  4. This sounds like loads of fun! Any idea if it’ll be coming out in audio sometime soon, Jim?

  5. This looks really good and I just noticed the author will be doing a signing at one of my local book stores.

  6. I can’t wait for this one! Because THIS IS ME!

    “The part that pretends to use the force every time the elevator doors open, because for that one moment, the magic can be real.”

  7. Saw this in Barnes and Noble the other day. It looked really cool, and I expressed some interest in getting it eventually to my wife. After reading the summary, I pretty much have to get it. I’m sold.

  8. And bam! I just found the perfect read for vacation. Will go perfectly with the projected highlight, Christopher Plummer’s one man show focusing on his favorite literature. Thank you, Mr. Hines & Mr. Scalzi!

  9. Dave – I haven’t announced this yet, but if all goes well, we’ll be signing the audio deal very soon. (Production will take a little time, of course.)

  10. Sooz – Thanks! Unfortunately, we don’t have a UK deal in place for this one yet. So I’m afraid, given my understanding of the territorial and contract limitations, that it probably won’t be on Kindle for UK readers. Sorry.

  11. Yay! Happy to hear it, Jim! I’ll look forward to it – sounds like it’ll be a very fun listen!

  12. Jim C. Hines writes books that are FUN to read. I’m grateful to John for Jim’s prior Big Idea piece, as it introduced me to Jim’s Princess Series, all of which were fun to read.

    I’m getting this book ASAP, and have shared this information, along with my recommendation of him as an author on my Facebook page.

    Jim – Thanks for the new book!

  13. This book is awesome, and you should all read it. And UK distributors should buy it, so Brits can read it on a kindle

  14. I’m buying this right away – kindle version. I do love real books, yes I do! But for those of us with old, achy hands, pages that turn with the flick of a finger ARE magic.

  15. Gah! Another fantasy novel I have to read. Down, Big Idea segment, down I say!

    I tried very hard not to get sued while writing the book.

    You realize that if you put that on the cover, booksellers wouldn’t be able to keep ‘em in stock?

  16. I wait with joyous anticipation for many release dates. I love searching and reading new authors. The smell and the feel of a book is nearly as wonderful as the reading of the words. This has been my true love all of my life. Thank you for bringing a new joy!

  17. Aieee, this looks awesome!

    I can’t believe that I just discovered Jim C Hines … last month. I’ve been eating up his (your) books, starting with the Goblin series.

  18. I’ve been looking forward to this for a while, and am very pleased to say it was well worth the wait. It was a very fun book, and I really enjoyed reading it.

  19. I’m looking forward to reading my first book from Jim Hines. I love the cover and got it on my Kindle 2. Just starting to read it. Really love the idea and the hero. Great reading fun. Thanks for another great book to enjoy. I’ll have to go back and read more of Jim Hines earlier books now. The Goblin Series looks great too. I’m just discovering Jim Hines too. Better late than never.

  20. Well, there inability to purchase this in Australia via kindle just robbed him of a sale. Was super keen too.

    Sorry folks. But this region locking shit is killing me.

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