Ink and Bone (The Great Library #1) by Rachel Caine
Genre: Young adult fantasy
Publisher: New American Library
Release date: July 7 2015
Source: ARC from publisher
The nitty-gritty: A thrilling, tension-filled start to a new series that fans of The Hunger Games should not miss.
Jess slowed to a job as he caught sight of the lions. Stone, they resembled, but they had the feral look of life—something caught in a moment of violence, of fury and blood and death, about to spring. He’d heard of the automata, machines that moved on their own, but they were far, far more terrifying in person, now that he was close enough to really see them.
Please don’t get the wrong idea from my comparison. This story is nothing like it, but the story Rachel Caine has penned—dangerous and highly engaging—is the kind of story that will make Hunger Games fans very happy. This is also my first Rachel Caine book, and I honestly couldn’t love this series any more if I tried. Not only is Ink and Bone about a library—actually, the Great Library of Alexandria, Egypt—but it’s about a dangerous and magical library where sometimes shady and dangerous people work, and just because you go to work in the morning doesn’t mean you’re coming home at the end of the day, if you know what I mean. Caine has about seventy-nine books under her belt (I might be exaggerating!), so it’s no surprise that Ink and Bone is polished and beautifully paced. Even though I love discovering new authors and reading debuts, it’s nice to go back and pick up a book by a seasoned author like Rachel Caine.
The story takes place in an alternate world where it’s illegal to own printed books, and the rare books that do exist are coveted by smugglers and rich collectors, who keep their collections hidden from the Garda (police). Instead, a system of libraries throughout the world—controlled by the Great Library of Alexandria—contain “mirrored” works that have been approved for reading, and can be accessed on individual blank books called Codexes, which can call up any approved text for immediate reading. (Re: Angel Season Five, when the gang take over Wolfram & Hart, has a similar, magical system of books)
Jess Brightwell belongs to a family of book smugglers who live in London. Jess spends his days fearfully wondering when his taskmaster father will call him up to smuggle a book across the city, a job fraught with danger. In Jess’s world, book smugglers are hanged if caught, and that’s how Jess’s older brother Liam died.
One day when Jess is sixteen, his father tells him he’s sending Jess to train at the Great Library in Alexandria. If he makes the cut at the end of the training period, he’ll be offered a job with the Library, and could be in a great position to spy for his father and his smuggling operation. But once Jess gets there, he soon realizes that he’s one of many students vying for only six positions. The competition is fierce, and the students are all just as smart, if not smarter, than Jess. Taught by a ruthless librarian named Christopher Wolf, the students are thrown into increasingly dangerous situations, all in the name of preserving the traditions of the library.
But all is not as it seems, and secrets within the library abound. Soon the question becomes, not who will be selected to fill the six positions, but who will actually survive.
Where do I even start with this book? Caine’s vision of a library system where people can instantly access books on tablet-like “blanks” was pretty cool, but once you get deeper and deeper into the story, you realize that the library is actually trying to suppress knowledge by outlawing “real” books. The whole magical system is run by people called Obscurists who are able to use alchemy to manipulate and copy text. In fact, the entire library system would fall without the Obscurists doing their thing. These people are shrouded in mystery, and it is only when Jess meets a young girl who has the gift, that he discovers the harsh truth about what the lives of the Obscurists are really like.
Although most people respect the Library and its ideals, there are dissenters called Burners who want to destroy books. They use a toxic and flammable concoction called Greek fire—which, it turns out, is a real thing—to burn rare books as a show of protest. One of the most intriguing aspects of Ink and Bone was the way Caine combined both the old and the new: the vast history of printed books and the ancient copies that still exist, and the almost futuristic idea of one Great Library controlling what everyone in the world reads, a Big Brother scenario that frankly, I found terrifying.
A group of about eight main characters makes up the story, and we get to know them really well. Unfortunately—and here’s where the Hunger Games comparison comes in—you want to be careful about getting too attached to them, because you never know what might happen. Caine ruthlessly does what she needs to in order to keep us on our toes, and I have to admit her twists got me every time.
The author prefaces each chapter with letters and notes between various characters that start way back in the time of the Pharaohs and gradually move forward to the present day. Read by themselves, these letters give a glimpse into how the Great Library was conceived and how, over time, it became corrupt. It also shows how the Library goes out of its way to suppress new ideas and free thinking, a theme that mirrors periods in our own world history.
Because this is young adult, there is a romance or two—after all, these are teenagers we’re talking about!—but romance was certainly not front and center, and only served to give more depth to the characters. The story does wrap things up at the end—sort of—but I am quite certain the wait for book two will be way too long. Ink and Bone was such an emotional rollercoaster of a story that I hated to have it end. Highly recommended!
A review copy of Ink and Bone was kindly provided by the good folks at Ace/Roc, and was part of an Ace Roc Stars package. Above quote was taken from an uncorrected proof and may differ in the final version of the book.
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