Review: The Accidental Keyhand (The Ninja Librarians #1) by Jen Swann Downey

Hardcover, , 384 pages
Published April 21st 2014 by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Source: Raincoast Books

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the ARC cover of this middle grade fiction. Sword-fighting librarians? Or perhaps book flinging librarian wannabes. What I got was a pleasant surprise. Downey’s middle grade debut is fantastically readable and contains a secondary world that is as intriguing as Hogwarts. I consider that high praise, just so you know.

Dorrie is introduced as unremarkable, completely ordinary girl who lives an extraordinary life. I mean, her living room is in what used to be a ballroom, she has a toddler sister with light hands and an older brother…well, you know the kind. Dorrie is passionate about sword fighting and wants to do it more seriously than just putting on performances at Renaissance fairs which is what she’s doing when one of her friend’s loses her mongoose. Dorrie and her brother chase down the mongoose into the local library and through the floor into a different world – the Petrarch library.

Now, the secondary world is a bit too convoluted for me to explain in one paragraph so I’m going to tell you to read the book if you want to know more about it. What I am going to say is, Petrarch Library is amazing – it trains ninja librarians, those who fight for the rights of people to speak what they will without being persecuted for it. They are the fighters of free speech if you’ll excuse the alliteration. Marcus, the older brother, and Dorrie are initially (and always) looked upon as suspicious characters who threaten the safety of the library but because they passed through the portal they have come keyhands, that is, they have become the only people who can guide other ninja librarians through the portal. Imagine Petrarch library as the center of a wheel. The spokes (as the book explains it) connect this library (which is out of time) to other libraries at different times in human history.

The book has personable characters that are realistically drawn. The pace is fun and quick and the writing did not at any point throw me out of the story. The conflict is believable and I loved the historical figures who are appropriated as characters for this novel. I loved the message of free speech too and I just really enjoyed the mythology of the novel. So, basically, what I’m saying is that I enjoyed this novel a whole lot and will most definitely be reading the sequel because I am anxious to return to the world in which the Petrarch Library is located so I too can pretend to be a ninja librarian. Highly recommended to all bibliophiles out there.