Book review: Magus of the Library, vol. 1 by Mitsu Izumi

Following on from my last post about how graphic novels are great for encouraging a love of reading, here’s a new manga that is all about the magic of books and reading: Magus of the Library by Mitsu Izumi.

The front cover to volume 1 of Magus of the Library.
Magus of the Library, volume 1

The story follows 7 year old Theo, an outsider in almost every respect: a mixed race (half elf) orphan from the slums. He is bullied by classmates and the local librarian for his pointy ears and for being poor - his only solace comes from the books he reads when he sneaks into the village library. He dreams of leaving for the big city of Aftzaak - the City of Books and home to The Great Library - a place without the prejudice and hatred he faces in his own village. Could a chance encounter with a Kafna (a librarian from the Great Library) be the start of a new life filled with magic and adventure for Theo? Probably. 

Theo hugs his fantasy-dog-creature in front of some imagined bookshelves and says "But, boy I sure would like to visit a big library someday"
Theo daydreams about the Great Library

Magus of the Library takes its inspiration from the Arabian Nights stories, as well as from the Library of Alexandria. The first thing that strikes you when you open the book is the gorgeous art style - which really shines on the full- and double-page spreads.

Here, have a trailer (in French)

As an aside, the cover of the book mentions that the story is based on Kafna of the Wind by Sophie Schwimm. I’ve performed a few cursory Google searches for this title and the author, but have found no information on either. Anyone know anything about this? I’m curious, and the lack of information is making me curiouser!

A close up of the text at the foot of the book's front cover. It reads "Based on Kafna of the Wind by Sophie Schwimm. Translated by Hiroto Hamada"
Does it even exist?

As a school librarian reviewing Magus of the Library, I can’t talk about it without discussing its presentation of the magic of books and reading - it’s not a subtle message in this book!

Also as a librarian, I enjoyed the pages of detailed descriptions of book care and repair techniques, although they did tend to slow the pace of the narrative (and the plot is pretty light and slow to begin with). I’m not sure an action-hungry manga fan would be quite so interested, but hey, I could be wrong - maybe the kids are all about book restoration work these days. 

The book is also full of kickass librarians doing kickass librarian things, (including piloting a flying carpet - we've all done it, right?). It's telling that the "evil" librarian in charge of the village library is referred to throughout the book as the library caretaker, not a librarian.

Magus of the Library, according to the back cover, has a rating of “Teen: 13+”. I’m stumped as to why. There is no sex, no swearing and very little violence - content-wise, there is nothing that would stop me from recommending this book to a 9 year old manga fan. The main character is 7 in this book - although there is a “ten years later…” epilogue, which might set up the rest of the series for a more teen vibe. 

This epilogue also makes this first volume feel more like a prologue to the series, recontextualising the story we have just read as almost a prequel, rather than as the main story itself. It will be interesting to see where volume 2 will take us.

Theo rides his fantasy-dog-creature through the forest. The text reads "When someone lets you borrow something, you make sure to give it back!"
The library's new Express Returns service

Thanks to book distribution company Turnaround for the review copy.

You can read the first chapter of Magus of the Library here. Volume 1 is out now, volume 2 is due out in September, with volume 3 following in November.