Goodreads: Ink and Bone (The Great Library #1)
Genre: Historical Fiction, Dystopia, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult Fantasy,
Rachel Caine rewrites history, creating a dangerous world where the Great Library of Alexandria has survived the test of time. In 48 AD, a fire set by the troops of Julius Caesar destroyed much of the Great Library of Alexandria. It was the first of several disasters that resulted in the destruction of the accumulated knowledge of the ancient world. But what if the fire had been stopped? What would the Library have become? Fast forward: the Great Library is now a separate country, protected by its own standing army. It has grown into a vast power, with unquestioned and unrivalled supremacy. Jess Brightwell, seventeen and very smart, with a gift for mechanical engineering, has been sent into the Great Library as a spy for his criminal family. Magical spells and riots abound in this epic new YA series.
How could my interest not be piqued after reading this blurb? Caine presents such a fascinating retold history wherein The Great Library of Alexandria is the most powerful entity in the world and knowledge is highly regulated. I admit to having a difficult time getting into the story initially. The pacing was slow and I found myself getting lost in the details of this alternate world, but I kept on reading because I was hoping that it would pick up and I wasn’t disappointed!
“There are three parts to learning: information, knowledge and wisdom, A mere accumulation of information is not knowledge, and a treasure of knowledge is not in itself, wisdom.”
The story alternates between regular chapters, told from Jess Brightwell’s perspective, and epigraphs. At the start, the epigraphs were about historical events that you don’t learn the importance of until further on in the story. I enjoyed these parts because they gave us more of the back story and ‘behind-the-scenes’ events that happened in real time further on. The descriptions of this alternate world and its current events were simultaneously beautiful and horrifying. As is to be expected in a world that’s highly regulated, there’s rebellion in the form of book smugglers, Burners, and even the likes of ink-lickers (that are seriously disgusting). There is a great deal of Egyptian influence in society and I thought the world that Caine built around this alternate history was unique.
That said, I wished that we got more of a backstory to how this world came to be. Where did the magic come from? How do Obscurists exist? How did the governing system of the Great Library come to be? I don’t know when Caine wrote these books in her career timeline, but there were inconsistencies in the writing, not just with the world building but also with the characters, that at times made it difficult to form a clear picture in my head. The “base” of the facts were all there but I found the details lacking and that was my biggest qualm with the writing.
Surprisingly, I have to say that my favorite part of the story wasn’t the power of the library and the magic of books, but it was the characters. There was a great deal more diversity in the characters than I initially expected and I loved that! There were strong found family vibes between the postulants fighting for a place in the Great Library. I quickly grew attached to them, but especially to Thomas! I just have this image of a giant cherub that brings this innocent excitement and balance to the group and I loved his character so much! I also really liked Jess‘ character and although I wouldn’t quite classify him as morally grey, he leaned more towards it than being the ‘good boy’ hero. I also felt the same about Scholar Wolfe. We don’t get much backstory to the secondary characters, but I liked how they genuinely banded together despite their vast differences in personality. The only thing that I didn’t really feel was the romance; the connection didn’t feel genuine and although it didn’t necessarily feel forced, it didn’t have much build up.
“Not all knowledge is books. Those out there, they’re history is stone. Men carved them. Men sweated in this sun to put them there, to make their city more beautiful. Who are you to say what’s worthy for men to see today, or tomorrow?”
Another refreshing aspect I enjoyed was that it doesn’t portray The Great Library as this pure, knowledge sharing entity that’s incapable of being touched by greed, corruption and evil. It’s very different to how we view libraries in our world, and it’s also different to how libraries are portrayed stories about books!
The ending of book one had me shook and immediately went out to get the sequel so I could find out what happens next. I can’t say this is a perfect novel, but it was highly entertaining and had me hooked once I got past the slow start. I’m relieved to see that the quartet is finished so that I can read through the series right away without waiting on any cliffhangers.
Have you read Ink and Bone or is it on your TBR?