I’m a big fan of magical libraries. You basically only have to tell me that a book has a magical or otherwise supernatural library in it, and I’m there — which is why I requested Apprentice from NetGalley. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite win me over.
In short, Apprentice suffers from the same problem as the musical Fame: it squashes a four-year period of character and relationship development into an extremely short space of time, to the point where it was difficult to know why I was supposed to care about any of them or engage on an emotional level.*
It’s more a novella than a novel — Goodreads says the Kindle edition has 125 pages and while that might vary by edition, that gives you some idea how short it is. It races through, covering a year in the space of a few pages, and while this prevented it from becoming boring, it also made it hard to get into any depth.
The book featured a magical library (a little bit like The Invisible Library, but different) in a world populated by fictional characters living lives after and outside of their original stories (a bit like The Eyre Affair, but not). That made for a very cool concept, and the nature of the library featured meant being a librarian is presented as badass and hard work — as a librarian, or at least former librarian, I’ll always appreciate that.
However, I think the concept is the strongest thing about the book. I didn’t really engage with the writing style, partly due to the extreme rapidity with which events unfolded, and the characters mostly fell flat for me, as they seemed somewhat unconvincingy.
One of the biggest issues I had was that the main character was supposedly 27 years old — but she didn’t feel it at all, in voice or tone or behaviour. Now, granted, I’m learning with every year that passes that there’s no magic ‘adulthood’ switch and just because somebody is in their late twenties doesn’t mean their brain works in an inherently different way. Moreover, the setting probably contributed to how young she felt: she’s an apprentice, and the school-like environment and references to studying are always going to give off a college vibe.
But the way she behaved around other people, her general ‘voice’, and the fact that when there’s an alcohol-induced mishap she won’t admit to the presence of alcohol (she’s 27, I’m sure no one cares!) made her feel a lot younger — more like 17 than 27. As you know, I’m only 21, so maybe I’m not the best judge, but… I don’t know. It kept throwing me off, and it undermined her as a character — which was unfortunate, as she was the most developed of the cast.
One plus note of the book: it featured some LGBTQ+ characters and ended up on my Goodreads ‘unbury your queers’ shelf, so that’s a note in its favour. However, I’ve read enough queer books recently not to need to like all of them simply by virtue of them being diverse, so that doesn’t sway my opinion.
On the whole, then, this was an interesting book but it didn’t live up to the expectations created by its premise, and was therefore somewhat disappointing.
* If the Fame comparison seems a surprising one, you should know it’s because I was in a production of the musical in my last year of school (as a chorus member) and was pretty unimpressed with it on a story level. For those who haven’t seen it, the main similarity with this book is the way it covers four years in the space of a couple of hours, since it follows some students throughout their entire high school experience and yet somehow expects you to care about them.