Review | Ink and Bone (The Great Library #1) by Rachel Caine

A promising series opener. 3.5/5 stars.

ink-and-bone-by-rachel-caine

The blurb: In an exhilarating new series, New York Times bestselling author Rachel Caine rewrites history, creating a dangerous world where the Great Library of Alexandria has survived the test of time…

Ruthless and supremely powerful, the Great Library is now a presence in every major city, governing the flow of knowledge to the masses. Alchemy allows the Library to deliver the content of the greatest works of history instantly—but the personal ownership of books is expressly forbidden.

Jess Brightwell believes in the value of the Library, but the majority of his knowledge comes from illegal books obtained by his family, who are involved in the thriving black market. Jess has been sent to be his family’s spy, but his loyalties are tested in the final months of his training to enter the Library’s service.

When his friend inadvertently commits heresy by creating a device that could change the world, Jess discovers that those who control the Great Library believe that knowledge is more valuable than any human life—and soon both heretics and books will burn…

My take:

As YA fantasy series openers go, this was fine (I’ve read a few after all. Sometimes I wonder if I’m approaching saturation point!). The writing was particularly good and that’s why I’ve given it the extra half star.

I had to give a lot of thought to why I didn’t enjoy Ink and Bone more. The concept was excellent, its execution good, and I liked the characters. So why wasn’t I enthralled?

Then I hit on it: I preferred the book while it was on firm speculative fiction territory. I thought it was a great idea to imagine what a near future would be like if access to all the world’s books and therefore knowledge had been restricted since ancient Egypt by the repeated suppression of the printing press. In fact, there are quite a few interesting parallels to be drawn between the control of society by the Catholic Church in medieval Europe and that exercised by Caine’s Great Library, a control which began to weaken with the advent of Gutenberg’s game-changing invention.

But then the story starts to stray off into the realm of fantasy and, after such a brilliant speculative set-up, this felt a little lazy. How does the library keep control? Brute force? Well yes. Keeping all the books to itself? Yes. But behind all of this, how do its systems work? What wonders of science, technology and engineering has this ultra-secretive organisation been keeping to itself? None, because it’s all powered by magic of course!

And I could have done without the doomed(?) romance story too. The friendships in the group of trainees were strong and endearing and would have been enough for me.

Overall: I don’t want to sound like I’m down on this book, because I’m not. But I think I’d have liked it even more had the author not played the magic card. I do look forward to reading the next book in the series.


Claire Huston / Art and Soul

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14 thoughts on “Review | Ink and Bone (The Great Library #1) by Rachel Caine

    • Sorry I’m only replying now – your comment went to spam (no idea why!).
      The romance was entirely unnecessary and brought nothing to the narrative. Such a shame because the friendships were great and would have been more than enough to carry the story. I now find I’m giving extra credit to YA fantasy/sci-fi stories which can give us a story without a central romance element because it’s so refreshing.
      I completely agree about the titles! I had to check I had this one right every time I mentioned it because I was worried I was just making it up/confusing it with one of the gazillion other YA fantasy books with this title format.

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  1. I agree with pretty much this whole review, especially the doomed romance (which I found even more irritating in the second book). The world-building took me quite a while to get my head around and I still couldn’t keep it all straight. I think the fact that the straddling between spec-fic and fantasy was never quite smooth is a reason for that. I was much less impressed by the second book than the first, but maybe you’ll have the opposite experience?

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    • Fingers crossed! 🙂
      I wouldn’t have minded the mixture of magic and spec-fic if the magic had been there from the start. But to just drop it in from nowhere when the narrative is already in its advanced stages… it felt really odd.
      I hope the second one is better!

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  2. I totally agree about the romance, Claire! I think that’s probably my least favorite part about this series. And the “magic” element is explained a bit more in the second book which I appreciated, as I was a little blindsided by it in the first book too. I hope you enjoy the second book even more! I think it was a bit more action filled than the first, if that helps. 🙂

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  4. I had similar feelings about Ink & Bone when I read it last year. The premise is great, and I really enjoyed the different friendships that Jess shares with his fellow trainees. But… yeah, his romance with Morgan felt off. And for comparison’s sake, I didn’t like Paper & Fire as much as Ink & Bone, but that could just be me…

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