Wednesday, May 25, 2016

ARC Review: Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine

Series:     The Great Library #1
Pub. Date:July 7, 2015
Publisher:Berkley Publishing
Length:352 pages

Rachel Caine has woven a wonderfully complex world full of intrigue, conspiracy, and dangerous secrets with a diverse cast of engaging characters, and them pitted against a corrupt governmental-type entity known as The Library. 

The Library that is heavily featured in this series is fashioned after The Great Library of Alexandria. Not remembering much about the Library of Alexandria from my school days, I popped over to do some Wiki research as a refresher.. and I'm glad I did. I also stopped a couple more times while I was reading to refresh myself on places and people mentioned in the story, such as Johannes Gutenberg. I always like when a story generates enough curiosity for me to go look things up. The one thing that I did remember about the Library of Alexandria was that it burned. So Wiki was a great refresher on that, providing the various theories of how and when the library burned. But however it happened, the destruction of the library became a symbol for the loss of cultural knowledge as it was believed that up to half a million "books" (papryus scrolls) were destroyed with the Library. Caine has twisted that history, imagining that the Library never burned but instead has grown into a world superpower. 

The way the Great Library was portrayed in this story was reminiscent of how the Catholic Church has been portrayed historically. The Library controls the flow of information, limiting access, spying on citizens around the world, and making it illegal to own private copies of original books. Part of controlling the information means that it seeks to confiscate, hide or destroy anything that it has deemed heresy... and the people who created, distributed or know of the heretic content. It reminded me a lot of the Catholic/Protestant conflicts and European Wars of Religion during the Reformation Period. The fact that the Library acted as a worldwide governmental entity, with both far-reaching ability and widespread opposition had an Orwellian feel to me.

The main protagonist of the story is Jess Brightwell. Jess' family is involved in the smuggling of original books and their trade on the black market. This activity was extremely dangerous, carrying a penalty of hanging for anyone caught with the contraband. Jess became a runner for his father at an extremely young age, and we first meet him as a 10 year-old boy in the prologue, then the bulk of the story takes place while Jess is a 16 year-old young adult. I enjoyed Jess' character... you could really feel his conflict between the loyalty he felt for his family and the worship he felt for books and knowledge. The incident that Jess experienced as the 10 year-old boy with the ink licker definitely had a huge impact on his life and thoughts going forward. As Jess is thrown together with the other postulants at the Library, even more conflict is felt with his budding friendships and the secrets he must keep. Jess really felt like an underdog... like a David figure going against Goliath in the form of the Library. There were many many opportunities to root Jess on throughout the story, and I felt invested in his character so I was hoping every time that he would come out on top.

I loved the diverse cast of secondary characters in the story as well. So many areas were represented - American, Welsh, English, Arab, German, and Egyptian. They each brought something different to the story, but melded well as a group. For die-hard romance readers, there were some romantic entanglements involved but they were all very G-Rated as the romance was not the focus of the story. The action and suspense was what really kept the story moving forward for me. The plot was complicated so it was not a light read, but all of the secrets, lies, twists and turns really kept me engrossed in the story.  The world-building was also interesting; it was an amalgamation of steampunk and dystopian. There were steam engines and automatons for steampunk fans, and the Library had that Big Brother feel for those who like the dystopian genre.

Based on how things ended in Ink and Bone, I am totally invested in this story and can't wait to read Paper and Fire next month! I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review from Berkley Publishing via NetGalley.  

The Great Library