Series: The Great Library #1
Published by New American Library on July 7th, 2015
Genres: Young Adult, Science Fiction, Dystopian, Alternate History
In an exhilarating new series, New York Times bestselling author Rachel Caine rewrites history, creating a dangerous world where the Great Library of Alexandria has survived the test of time…
Ruthless and supremely powerful, the Great Library is now a presence in every major city, governing the flow of knowledge to the masses. Alchemy allows the Library to deliver the content of the greatest works of history instantly—but the personal ownership of books is expressly forbidden.
Jess Brightwell believes in the value of the Library, but the majority of his knowledge comes from illegal books obtained by his family, who are involved in the thriving black market. Jess has been sent to be his family’s spy, but his loyalties are tested in the final months of his training to enter the Library’s service.
When his friend inadvertently commits heresy by creating a device that could change the world, Jess discovers that those who control the Great Library believe that knowledge is more valuable than any human life—and soon both heretics and books will burn…
When Ink and Bone first came out, it got some rave reviews that made me place it on my wishlist and file away under “definitely should check out at some point”. That point arrived in the form of a book club nomination. I went into the book not knowing much about it aside from (a) the good reviews, and (b) it had something to do with the library of Alexandria. But oh man, the way that this book kept me on my toes was something I did not expect.
Ink and Bone is a dystopian story set in the near future of an alternate history – trust me, that makes sense. In this version of our world, the library of Alexandria rules all – having basically replaced the church as the ruling body of the world. As comes with the dystopian territory, this did not really have a good impact on society. The library halted all forms of progress – books are illegal to own, printing presses are illegal to even suggest. All books are owned by the library, though it offers to share some of its knowledge by ways of the codexes and blanks – empty books that can be mirrored to the books in the library’s possession. Knowledge is power, and the library is keeping it to itself. What an interesting concept.
This story has been pitched as Harry Potter meets The Book Thief – and I can venture a guess as to why. The Book Thief obviously comes into play with the “books are illegal” premise. Harry Potter comes in because of the characters. The parallels are striking when you think about them – but they didn’t bother me at all while reading. Jess, the main character, comes from a smuggling family and is sent to the library to infiltrate it. He is our Harry – he’s brave and a little stubborn, but his personality is not the most outspoken. Thomas, a friend he makes in Alexandria, is more or less Ron – loyal to the very end (though Thomas is admittedly much more intelligent). Khalila – a muslim girl, who proudly wears a hijab – is the brightest of the class and an obvious Hermione. And Jess instantly picks up a rival who can easily be compared to Draco (though he gets an impressive character growth arc).
The interactions between these characters are all well and good. It’s fast-paced, dynamic, and you certainly grow to care for them (especially after some of the horrible things they face). But the one who really and truly stole my heart was Wolfe. Wolfe is the Scholar (and proctor) for the students, and he first appears rather gruff and grumpy. But… he’s so much more than that. He’s complex, caring, and protective, but he doesn’t like to draw attention to himself. And he has a ship that I totally called and that did give me feels, even though they are decidedly secondary characters who are not in the forefront that much. Wolfe is a total Snape (though younger and much more handsome). And for Snape fans – you will get feels.
Though this is a dystopian story, it’s not at all a typical one. I’m very much over dystopian fiction at the moment, but this one felt fresh and new. It’s been heralded as Harry Potter meets The Book Thief, but I would even dare to throw a shout out to The Bone Season in there, because of the alternate history / near future setting, slight fantastical elements, and the gripping scenes of unrest in London and Oxford. Seriously, the battle of Oxford was a heart-stopping and surprisingly brutal page turner. I couldn’t get enough. I do feel like there’s room for improvement on the world building, though. How this world came to be this way, why no one has ever managed to really stand up against it, and how the magical and alchemical aspects of the library work are not that developed yet. But I have faith that it’ll come.