Author: Rachel Caine
Series: The Great Library (Book 1)
Genre: Young adult; fantasy; steampunk; alternate history
Books and men left the same traces where they burned.
For every book lover who is also a history lover, for every historian with an addiction to book, Ink and Bone is a pipe dream come true. Set in a world where the Library of Alexandria was never destroyed but where it is illegal to own originals. Instead, everyone is given a codex, with immediate access to the texts you could ever want, or need, as decreed by the all-knowing, all-seeing Library. Jess, the son a black-market trader of original books, is given the chance to go and study at the Library. What follows is basically Harry Potter with less magic, more alcohol, and a pretty similar body count.
The Library. It was heaven, masking hell, and you prayed to it anyway. I loved the rich, complex history of the Library, revealed in small snippets of text interspersed between the chapters. The architecture of the library, its place in society, its operations, its political power – I loved it all. Yes, it’s kind of an Evil Corporation but I would sell my soul to it for a penny.
Greek fire. It still exists! The recipe wasn’t lost! I actually sobbed when this was revealed. Because I’m a nerd. A happy, happy nerd.
Characters. The characters were all well drawn, complex and multi-faceted. I loved that the reader discovered these hidden sides to the other characters as Jess, the MC, did. Jess himself was compelling, the type of person any bookworm could relate to. I think this book has the most potential for reader immersion at a viscerally emotional level than most others I’ve read so far.
Worldbuiling. There was some of the worldbuiling I took issue with, which I go into detail on below, but for the most part, it was incredible. Highlights include the city of Alexandria, the automatons, the Welsh war, the trains, the Iron Tower, the hierarchy of the Library, the codex, the Archives, the archiving, the-
Pacing. The beginning felt a little slow, perhaps because the first few pages could have come from any eighteenth century inspired story of street urchins, but it certainly picked up. I honestly don’t know how she did it but there was so much happening it was like two books in one. The middle was strong, really strong. Because I was reading the e-book, I didn’t really have a sense of how far through I was and as it approached the mid-peak, I thought it was the end but oh no, the stakes went up again. It was edge of your seat, nail-biting reading.
Just a lot of tears. Yes, this is in the positives. I like a book that makes me cry, and rage, and gasp, and smile. This book did all of those things.
Wordlbuilding. The only place where I felt this book really fell down was in the worldbuiling. Despite the divergence between this world and ours taking place in the Roman Era, the world is divided into modern nation states. England is England, France France, Germany Germany and so on, without even a nod to their Roman names and histories. I honestly found this super unrealistic. So much of the history that went into the birth of the nation states we have today stemmed from a lack, or a loss, of knowledge after the retreat and collapse of the Roman Empire. In a world where the Library controls everything, albeit with a mandate to spread knowledge to all, I can’t believe history would have lead to the same point. I feel that a book about the Library of Alexandria living on beyond its historical demise would appeal to a certain demographic – a demographic fond of history – and that the author should have been more aware of this in the worldbuiling.
Fun anecdote time, when I told my friends what it was about, they were like, ‘Did you write this?’. Unfortunately, I had to say no, but I’m so glad this book exists. I love this book. I love this world (all alternate history quibbles aside). Hogwarts? Never heard of her. Take me to Ptolemy House.
I think it’s also worth mentioning how diverse this book it. Amomgst the library personal and the students studying alongside Jess, a range of religions, ethnicities and cultures are represented. There is also a wonderful, positive LGBT+ relationship between two of my favourite characters.
Also, I’m in denial about *spoiler* because if I’ve learnt anything from the copious amounts of fiction I’ve read over the years, it’s that without a body, there’s no proof they’re really dead.
Would I read the sequel? I would fight a flock of seagulls to get my hands on it. Hopefully, that won’t be necessary, but I’d do it.
Should you read it? Do you love books? Do you love history? Do you die a little inside when you remember that the Library of Alexandria was destroyed? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then yes, you should read it.