Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars.
Series: The Great Library (Book 1 of 5)
Genre: Young adult, alternate history, historical fantasy, fantasy
Published: July 2015 by Berkley Books (US) and Allison & Busby (UK)
Ink and Bone is a fantastic entry in The Great Library series that enthralled me right from the very beginning and didn’t let go.
I’ve not read Rachel Caine’s before and this was brought to my attention by my co-blogger, Celeste, when we’re discussing about books about books/libraries. To my dismay, even before I embarked into one of her books, the author passed away last Nov. And now that I’ve read Ink and Bone, I’m feeling the loss even more keenly as this was such an excellent read that was a boon to the YA genre as far as I’m concerned.
This is alternate historical fantasy fiction where the Library of Alexandria survived and became a worldwide presence of pre-eminent political will and power. Their mantra being “Knowledge is all” literally means that nothing is above the preservation of knowledge, and their concept of preserving knowledge is not merely saving books but controlling it to the extent that personal ownership of physical books is forbidden. Analogously one can say that e-readers exist before the printing press did, except that in this world the e-readers are powered by a special group of Librarians that employ alchemical magic.
“Lives are short, but knowledge is eternal. Jess had never imagined that someone would be so empty that they’d need to destroy something that precious to feel full.”
Make no mistake though, this book is pretty dark. Right from the Prologue, there was a fervent chase scene, violence and the most disturbing destruction of a book that I’ve ever read. And our MC was barely ten years old at that time. For the rest of the book, Jess Brightwell was a teenager in training with a bunch of other hopeful postulants to obtain the rare and sought-after placements in the Library in Alexandria.
“A mere accumulation of information is not knowledge, and a treasure of knowledge is not, in itself, wisdom.”
The splendour of Alexandria was vividly rendered and the interesting dynamics between the well-written characters in a school-like setting made for a truly captivating read. While Brightwell did occasionally have some annoying lapses which are not atypical of teenagers, it was not unreasonable in his circumstances. Of all the characters, my favourite one turned out to be totally unexpected, at least from the beginning; an interesting and complex character who had a backstory which just needed time to be fleshed out and appreciated. The story didn’t stay school-like for very long though, and some of the action scenes that ensued were intense.
“Not all knowledge is books. Those out there, they’re history in 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?”
Caine had built an absolutely fascinating and immersive alternate world where The Library reigns supreme. The worldbuilding was also masterfully incorporated with each chapter being preceded by an Ephemera of letters and notations that provided information and revelations without disrupting the flow and momentum of the main story. The entire narrative was so well-crafted that there wasn’t a single chapter where I was not completely engaged. I consider myself as truly hooked. To cap it all off, the book ended in a cliffhanger of sorts, which made me even more eager to continue reading the rest of the series.