Nancy Coiner wraps the pitfalls and perils of academia into a fantastical plot in her novel, The Magical Librarian of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The story’s titular heroine, Dr. Kate LaFon, is trying to adjust to her relatively new position as lead librarian at a prestigious Oklahoma university. Even as she strives to curate the library’s collection of ancient scriptures, tomes and artifacts, she must deal with unruly students, overbearing administrators, meddling trustees and Tulsa itself, which holds a particular fascination with LaFon’s school.
That’s because it’s no ordinary post-graduate institution: It’s Tulsa’s College of Magic, a university that caters to students with magical powers and skills. In this world, magic is becoming increasingly accepted by mainstream culture. “Cultural critics regarded it as postmodern and hip,” Coiner writes. “…Its return was making life easier for anyone who’d inherited magical talent.”
When students break into the library’s rare book section as a senior prank, they accidentally unloose a menagerie of mythical creatures that had been magically bound in a particularly rare tome. One of those creatures, a 40-foot serpent with toxic skin from ancient Greek mythology, eludes capture. LaFon joins Professor Merle Horvath, the university’s handsome new specialist in Exotic Animal Sciences, to find the missing snake, reverse a set of unfortunate curses, and navigate other challenges, including their own romance.
Coiner’s College of Magic holds obvious parallels to J.K. Rowling’s Hogwarts. However, the author makes the premise her own in several ways. The mood is thoroughly American, thoroughly post-graduate and, moreover, thoroughly Oklahoman, with fantastical magic operating in the pedestrian setting of Tulsa. Also, much of the story reads like a traditional romance; the arc of LaFon’s relationship with Horvath feels more Jane Austen than Rowling.
Coiner skillfully balances the different narrative tones with a love for the fantasy and romance genres that’s clear in every chapter. There’s also plenty of action, academic humor and straightforward magical fiction, creating an unusual, but winning combination that’s sure to entertain.
Also available as an ebook.