Friday Review: Codex by Lev Grossman

CodexCodex by Lev Grossman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

At 25, Edward Wozny has it all, or so it seems. A hotshot investment banker about to move overseas to take a prestigious promotion at his firm’s London office, Edward has a couple weeks off- his first vacation in years. His best friend, a computer geek, gets Edward hooked on MOMUS, an interactive video game, and his firm asks him to help out the Wents, duke and duchess of Bowmry with a special project. The project turns out to be cataloging their extensive collection of rare old books. At first, Edward is confused and a little angry that he’s been asked to do what is essentially a librarian’s job. When he’s asked by the duchess (through her intermediary in New York) to find a text that many scholars believe doesn’t exist, Edward becomes intrigued and determined to complete his task. He enlists the help of a Medievalist student, Margaret, who is one of those who doesn’t believe the codex exists. As they dig deeper into the mystery of the codex, Edward is becoming more and more drawn into the world of MOMUS. The closer he comes to finding the codex, the more Edward realizes it is far more important to the Wents than it appears on the surface.

This is one of those confusing books. Not because of the plot, characters, or story, but because it rides that line between likable and not very good. It is certainly more literary in tone than Grossman’s more well-known trilogy, “The Magicians.” It is, in some ways, a character study, as we watch Edward change from confident and a bit cocky to unsure and somewhat at a loss. The pace is slow at times, with a lot of history, real and fictional, woven throughout.

And there is the ending. Many will probably find it unsatisfying, and it is, to some extent. There is a twist at the end that can seem a bit contrived, but at the same time, makes perfect sense, given the characters involved. This is not a happily ever after sort of ending for all the characters, and even Edward, who doesn’t really give up his opportunities, is left hanging without fully understanding what happened.

I didn’t dislike the book: it is well-written with developed characters. There are twists that keep the plot intriguing. And yet, I didn’t really love it, either. There were moments that seemed flat and disconnected, rather like Edward’s life as he goes about searching, both for the book and his own life. Which may, after all, be the whole point.

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