“We are the stories we tell to ourselves. Nothing more.”
For more than a decade, Mark Lawrence has written trilogies, short stories, and novellas set within the same universe. Although the stories took place across different timelines and planets, careful readers could find common ground linking them all. The more Mark published, the more tightly woven his books became, culminating in 2022’s The Girl in the Moon. There was a definitive message in Moon stating that it was the last story taking place in the shared universe, and it was time for something new.
Enter: The Book That Wouldn’t Burn.
While I am a massive fan of Mark’s previous works, my anticipation level for a fresh start in a brand new setting was very high. I am pleased to say that my expectations for this story were exceeded. The Book That Wouldn’t Burn is Lawrence at the top of his game, offering a twisty, surprising, and heartfelt story with inspiring characters and magnificent world-building. It concocts a heady brew of science fiction, fantasy, and mystery that makes each chapter feel fresh and unique.
One of the aspects that makes the book so successful is the number of topics it tackles so well. It is a love letter to the written word, but it also addresses interesting themes such as the evolution of language, the cyclical nature of history, racism, autonomy, misinformation, education, and community.
The prose was another highlight. Lawrence doesn’t waste a single sentence, utilizing economical yet descriptive language to develop his characters while building a vast and compelling world around them. Insightful and humorous epigraphs add color and enrich the themes presented in each chapter. There were personal touches throughout the book, with references to Lawrence’s own family members (including an infamous feline) as well as tributes to other authors, influences, and his own previous work.
“It’s always the books you don’t have that call to you, you know that. Not the ones already on your shelf. They can wait.”
I’ve avoided plot details in this review because I think it wise to go into this one completely blind. It is a complex and rewarding story, one of the best of Lawrence’s prolific career. If I had the sequel, I’d start it immediately. Don’t miss it.