Book Review: INK AND BONE, Rachel Caine

My second book for the Goodreads Challenge. An amazing journey in an alternate world where books are valued more than a human life.

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Ink and Bone, Rachel Caine.
Series: The Great Library.
Pages: 410.
Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Young Adult.
Publisher: Allison and Busby, 2015.
ETC: Amazon, Goodreads.
Rating: ★★★★☆

Summary:

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…

Thanks to Goodreads for the summary.

A good friend of mine recommended me this book. She’d first gotten me into Rachel Caine’s Weather Warden series, which, if you’ve read that, was a good introduction to Caine’s kind of stories. I hope she never finds my blog, because I don’t want her to see that I’ve complimented her.

Now, let me preface this with something you’ll soon wonder is even true. If you know me at all, you’ll know that I moan and moan and moan about how I am a slow reader. It’s become a joke among good friends that I simply just don’t read. Ink and Bone is a 400 page book. It’s thick and plotty. For a slow reader, it’s not a “quick read.”

I finished this book in five days.

If that doesn’t tell you how good this book is, then, honestly, I’m a great mathematician. (And I’m not. Captcha frequently proves I’m not human.)

In a world where the Library of Alexandria was never destroyed, we are introduced to a future where Steampunk lives. As someone who has never read steampunk before, this was difficult for me to get used to. But the characters and the world building really drew me in. It felt very real; nothing stuck out like a sore thumb for me.

In this world, owning an original book is illegal. Everyone is given a blank, a copy. And due to his law, there’s an underbelly of book smugglers. Jess comes from a family of them. They steal original books and sell them. There’s ink-lickers, Burners (who like to burn books, believing the Library has no right to keep the originals from the people of the world), and, of course, the Library we get to know rather intimately.

We follow Jess Brightwell on his journey to embracing his Inner Bookish Nerd. Jess is a very likeable main character. Though I was worried he would fall easily into “the Chosen One” trope (he’s very gifted with one thing you’ll later discover as you read), he doesn’t. Before I get into that, let me tell you why I really like him: He’s flawed. While he has skills, and is a survivalist who comes from a family I wish we got to spend more time with, he’s a likeable and relatable character. He’s lost an older brother and was forced, at a young age due to the “Family Code”, to essentially disassociate himself with this person who was once so important to him. It left its mark.

And, most importantly, his voice is so engaging that it’s pretty difficult to put the book down.

The diversity in this book is fantastic. Caine has built a world — a good and proper world, where every country has been affected by the Library of Alexandria remaining. The Library of Alexandria is actually used as a prop itself, as a reason to bring all these kids from different countries together. No one is necessarily from the same place. The hard Glain is from Wales, the lovely and naive Thomas from Germany, the arrogant and spoiled Dario from Spain, Jess from England, and Khalila from the Middle East. Caine does ensure that we know her cast is diverse by describing the characters and their accents, but she never defines them by their race. Khalila is the intelligent and compassionate girl who will kick everyone’s asses in this program. Thomas is a loveable yet innocent and big-hearted boy who is so clever. Santiago, despite being Jess’ foil, is endearing in how he doesn’t want to make it obvious he cares. Glain is a girl who literally can kick your ass and shows that brawn is just as good as brains. I even have to say that the brief appearance of Jess’ cousin, Frederick, surprised me by how much I grew attached to him. For someone who was a side character, simply a means of getting our characters into a literal safe space, he has his own layers.

The most interesting character for me, though, wasn’t any of the students. It was Wolfe. As someone who had an air of mystery around him, he did come off like another Professor Snape copy. But he was interesting. Without giving anything away, Wolfe is a character who takes you by surprise. At first, you think he’s one-dimensional, but then it just grows and grows and grows. You can say the entire plot is actually about him. This story is Wolfe’s, and Jess is just a side character the moment he walks off that train in Alexandria. Wolfe is the person who is responsible for the turn of events. Wolfe is the catalyst for a lot of what Jess goes through. The best thing about his character, though, is that there are moments where you love him and moments where you despise him. To me, that’s incredibly realistic for a human being.

The way Caine set out her book, with the messages between each chapter revealing more intimate information about the characters and the Library, there was no way I was ever going to put this book down so I could breathe. The storytelling and the way she crafted this novel — I could go on for hours. But I’ll spare you.

What I wasn’t too fond of was the lack of development for the romances in the book. Without giving one away that I absolutely loved (and maybe you’ll be able to guess which one it is if you pick up the book!), none of the students’ romances compared. Jess and Morgan were tipped to be the “OTP” of the book. Truthfully, I found Morgan boring until the very last page. I didn’t understand Jess’ attraction to her, nor hers to Jess. (And I love Jess. Seeing someone who is a male Rory Gilmore be such a nerd about books was awesome, so I was disappointed he was so hung up on this girl I just didn’t get.) Their relationship progressed too quickly into “We’re OTP’ mode. We didn’t get to spend much time with them. I think their relationship would’ve been better if it had remained on a slow burn and undefined. What I did like, though, was the background romance of Dario and Khalila. Those two were very unexpected, but their chemistry, for me, was one that pulled me in. (And, I have to admit, I was rooting for Khalila and Jess.) But no student romance compared to the one I don’t want to say, since I feel like it’s a Big Spoiler. Being hit with it in the book is an experience I don’t want to take away from any new reader.

As the students are competing for six spots in the Library, the top six was predictable. What wasn’t predictable were the fates of the students. If I have to say anything, it’s that Caine takes you by surprise. She doesn’t hesitate to pull any punches. If you think your favourite is safe, think again. This book starts off as “Kids are sent to the Library to learn how to be librarians underneath a man who is pretty much a dick” and turns into “Kids are sent on a mission and risk their lives and some even lose them in the process.”

If this book was a standalone, I think it would work perfectly. The ending isn’t perfect. It’s rough, with its strings untied. It felt realistic to me — and is the perfect setup for a sequel. But that may not work for someone who likes their endings all neatly tied up. Fortunately, we’re getting a sequel! And I hope it arrives on my doorstep tomorrow because I need to know what happens next!

You can read my very thoughtful review of the book on Goodreads. (Contains spoilers. Isn’t very thoughtful at all.)

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