Sword and Pen by Rachel Caine
My rating: 5 of 5 stars.
Series: The Great Library (Book 5 of 5)
Genre: Young adult, alternate history, historical fantasy, fantasy
Published: Sept 2019 by Berkley Books (US) and Allison & Busby (UK)
Much to my delight, Sword and Pen delivered a truly satisfying and emotional conclusion to The Great Library, a spectacular YA series that has earned a spot as one of my favourites.
I would once again reiterate that I don’t read very much modern YA, and one of the reasons is that the subgenre, is more often than not, chockful with problematic tropes. I found, however, that I did enjoy YA titles which were penned by authors who predominantly write adult fiction such as Brandon Sanderson, Sebastian de Castell and Joe Abercrombie. I’ll now add Rachel Caine to that list – even though she also wrote a huge YA series The Morganville Vampires. I’m not sure if I’ll read that series but I will recommend The Great Library wholeheartedly. As a lover of books and libraries, the premise of The Great Library was way too enticing that I had to give it a try. Boy, was I glad that I did! My experience was further enhanced by buddy reading the entire series with my co-bloggers, Celeste and Eon, who loved the books as well.
“What we offer is not simply books on shelves. It is a commonality of scholarship and knowledge. Without it, the world could easily fall into darkness and chaos, without a shared culture of understanding.”
I won’t go into any details about this final book at all, except that it delivered in every possible way. With the exception of a relatively slower start in the second book, the story was well-paced and incredibly engaging. These books absolutely cannot be read on a stand-alone basis as the narrative from start to finish is one big continuous arc that does not veer into any side-plots at all. In fact, the 2nd and 3rd books had cliffhanger endings. And even though the penultimate volume ended with less suspense, one would want to continue to the final book as soon as possible.
“In this place we burn the lamp of knowledge that never goes out. We light the world.”
Similar to the previous book, Sword and Pen is multi-POV, which worked really well for these last two instalments. In spite of the brisk pace of the story, character development was never compromised. As a result, I was hugely invested in each and every single character that mattered to Jess Brightwell, who I considered as the main protagonist of the series. I’ve mentioned in one of my previous reviews that it’s rare for me to be so interested in every member of the main cast and that has not diminished in the least. Caine made sure of that by giving each of them their own screen time, and I enjoyed every minute of it.
“Sometimes there simply were no good choices to be made. Only costly ones.”
I might have not mentioned much about the worldbuilding since my first review, and I would like to address this shortcoming on my part. Caine did a magnificent job in realising this alternate world where the Great Library of Alexandria persisted and became the pre-eminent power of the world. She portrayed a realistic view of what our world would be like when such absolute power corrupts those who held all of the world’s knowledge. It has always been lamented as to how much ancient scientific knowledge and technology had been lost in the destruction of the Library of Alexandria. Mythology has given us ideas about gods and robots, and Caine had given us a vivid realisation of that world.
“He’d been living in a desert for so long that finding a rose in the sand seemed impossible.”
There’s really nothing much about these books that I could actually criticise. There were no silly tropes to begin with. Our young protagonists were sensible pretty much most of the times, and even when they seemed to be making mistakes, it was due to love, loyalty and friendship. Even the romance was handled really well, especially in the final book. And while there were a couple of occasions where things were resolved a tad too conveniently, I felt that the overall story and its characters have earned it somehow.
“Better I die for something, even if it’s nothing you’d believe in. Loyalty’s just a word to you. It’s real for me.”
What more can I say except that I loved every moment I spent reading this series. On top of that, the physical books look absolutely stunning – making it a truly worthy addition on my shelves.
Just look at those gorgeous spines!