Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Ink and Bone

Ink and Bone (The Great Library #1)- Rachel Caine
Penguin Group Berkely, NAL
Release Date: July 7, 2016

Rating (out of 5):

Synopsis: 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. 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 knowledge is more valuable than any human life—and soon both heretics and books will burn.…

Warning: Potential Spoilers

Inevitably, Ink and Bone will be compared to Harry Potter, perhaps Hunger Games, and it's an apt comparison in many ways.  It's world is an alternate world with what we would call steampunk elements like automata figures, where alchemy is real and the great Library of Alexandria survived and flourished, and now controls all access to books and knowledge.  It's a world where we want to imagine the Library as a wonderful place but absolute power corrupts absolutely and those who run the Library are now corrupted and fanatical enough to go to any means to remain in control.

Jess Brightwell is the main character, a young man who has no interest in taking over his father's book smuggling business.  His father helps him get a place in the Library with the idea that he'll become the family spy, and Jess believes he'll be spending all his time surrounded by rare and precious books.  But it's hard work becoming a Librarian and Jess and his classmates are thrown into the deep end from Day One.  Their instructor, Scholar Wolfe, reminded me of Harry Potter's Snape (not a bad thing!). The students fill the rather stereotypical roles: smartest girl, best friend, love interest.  Most of the characters never become more than two dimensional, although the ones who rise above the rest, like Wolfe and Santi, are well worth waiting for them to develop.  The story picks up the pace and comes into its own when the students are sent to war torn Oxford to retrieve a cache of rare books before the city is destroyed.  The descriptions of the war zone and the devastation of Oxford are brilliantly done, and the story becomes more engaging and edge-of-your-seat as you wait to see what will happen next.  

I enjoyed Caine's descriptions of this alternate world- a place where it is illegal to own actual books, where there is no such thing as a printed book. The worlds of London and Alexandria are beautifully written and it was interesting to see the imagined changes in history that would have occurred because of the Library.  As flat as most of the characters felt for much of the book, I still found myself drawn to them, waiting to discover what would happen to them next, who's secret would be unearthed, and how that would effect the others.  It was touching to watch a group of very different students come together to form a close knit bond by the end.  

I had very mixed feelings about this book- sometimes I really enjoyed it, sometimes not. I hadn't thought I liked many of the characters, but then the emotional last few chapters made it clear that I was far more attached than I expected.  When I would get frustrated that the story wasn't exploring the Library in depth something would happen to show me how wrong I was.  There is depth and darkness that in many places sneaks up on the reader and it was only on thinking about the book for this review that I realized some of it.  Probably that means the longer I think about it, the more I'll find that I liked this book.  Definitely the sign of a well written beginning to a series!

The world of the Great Library is gritty, dark and full of secrets.  The question is always who can you trust, are first impressions the right ones, and how can secrets be kept from the all-seeing Library.  The ending is both heart-breaking and hopeful, and makes you wish the next book was published so you could get back to the characters and make sure they will succeed in their accidental mission- bringing down the Great Library and changing the world.

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley for an honest review.

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