Paper and Fire by Rachel Caine
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars.
Series: The Great Library (Book 2 of 5)
Genre: Young adult, alternate history, historical fantasy, fantasy
Published: July 2016 by Berkley Books (US) and Allison & Busby (UK)
Another close-to-perfect read, Paper and Fire was a superb sequel in The Great Library series, one that is on track to become a favourite.
I was hoping that Ink and Bone would not be a one-hit-wonder for this alternate history fantasy YA series, and I was not disappointed in the least. Firstly, the ending of the previous book ended on a cliffhanger-ish note as the fate of possibly the most endearing character was left hanging on the edge. I appreciated that Caine did not leave readers hanging on the edge for long and even from the very first page, the answer was right there to appease my need to know.
“Books spoke mind to mind, soul to soul across the abyss of time and distance.”
Secondly, and this is usually what I deem as the crucial handling of the genre especially in a sequel, the characters actually learned from their past experiences. Hence, we have a group of smart young people who adapted and overcame the trials and tribulations from the first book to become even more savvy and sensible. So far, I’ve not encountered any unnecessary plot devices just for the sake of overwrought drama, not even in the dramatic romantic arc between our main protagonist, Jess Brightwell, and Morgan Hault, a girl with special powers. It may sound like a paradox, but I felt that the circumstances of their romance provided a realistic basis of the tension between the two of them, love notwithstanding.
“Hard habit to break, friendship.”
I also found the characters in this series to be likeable with distinctive voices. Jess Brightwell as the primary point-of-view character was flawed and compelling. Meanwhile, the rest of the supporting characters are diversely represented and well-written to evoke the differences in their upbringing. On top of that, their friendship and loyalty to one another was inspiring and heartwarming. I couldn’t help rooting for every one of them as they have to face and outsmart the immense power of the Library in order to save one of their own. And the emotions! That critical element of turning a good book into great for me came to the fore in the last third of the book, and particularly in a late scene between a mother and an estranged son which made my heart ache.
“Goliath fell to a slingshot and a stone. And the Library is a lumbering giant, dying of its own arrogance; it has to change or fall.”
After finishing this second volume, I think that this series is one big continuous arc that must be read in order. The plot in Paper and Fire ties in very closely with all the events that have taken place in the first book, and Caine does not repeat very much of what have occurred. The pacing started out a bit slowly but it was still engaging. Overall, I thought the narrative was well-crafted, with a lot of intense action scenes which had me at the edge of my seat. The settings in this series are also epic-worthy – from London to Alexandria and now, Rome – grand cities steeped in history and knowledge.
“But hope was a malicious, jagged thing, all spikes and razors that churned and cut deep in his guts. Hope was a great deal like fear.”
As I’ve mentioned in my review for the first book, this series is pretty dark. While some of the more gruesome events happen offscreen, they were sufficiently implied to make the reader feel rather disturbed on a more psychological level. Even their mode of instant travel called ‘Translation’ was traumatic and horrifying. As before, even though there was resolution to the primary subplot in this instalment, there was yet again a bit of a cliffhanger to the ending that ensures that I won’t wait too long to continue with the next one. I’m sure my co-bloggers and buddy-readers, Celeste and Eon, will agree with me.