Author: Rachel Caine
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fantasy
Read: Dec. 2017
The only other Rachel Caine book I’ve read is Stillhouse Lake, which I understand is quite a departure from her other works, but this was so different and I’m impressed Caine is able to bridge both the mystery/thriller and fantasy genres so well.
I thought this was a pretty good novel. It has a bit of a slow start after a pretty intense prologue, but once the action gets going it’s pretty much non-stop throughout the rest of the book. Ink and Bone is the first in a fantasy/dystopian series called The Great Library. The book is set in 2025 between parts of the UK and Alexandria, Egypt. At some point in the past it seems this story has diverged from our history and in order to preserve knowledge and protect against heresy, the library has become the world’s dominant power. The library safeguards human knowledge and teachings by collecting and producing all books and academic studies and forbidding the ownership of original books.
I thought the set-up for the story was a bit weak and as such I was a bit confused in the first part of the novel about what was going on and whether people actually had access to books or not. It seems everyone has a “codex” which is a kind of e-reader and can access some library books, but the ownership of any original book is forbidden, as is the writing of any original works outside of keeping a personal journal that is turned over to the library upon your death.
The main character of the story is Jess, who is a book smuggler in London, selling valuable original books on the black market to collectors as part of the family business. Jess loves books more than anything and hates the smuggling business. So when his father suggests to send him for training to work for the library, he finds himself happy to travel to Alexandria for the library training course.
This is where I thought things got fun and interesting. The training course starts off with a huge group of students competing for only 6 placements at the library, under a very tough scholar, Christopher Wolfe. Things get really intense and the students start to realize the dark underside of the library and just how far the library will go to maintain power. I liked the introduction of the other students, although I feel I didn’t learn enough about any of them. Dario was an intriguing character, as was Morgan Hault, but I haven’t learned enough about their backstories to really understand their characters. Khalila and Glain were totally forgettable characters; they both had really interesting introductions when Jess meets them on the train, but I feel like they were both lacking in personality and depth. Even Jess’ family is a bit of a mystery. I have no idea what’s up with Brennan, but I feel like he’s going to play some larger role in the next books.
That said, I loved Wolfe, Santi, and Thomas! Thomas is just so precious and idealistic. He’s a genuinely kind person and I loved his thirst for knowledge and his naive belief that things could be better. Plus he was an engineer, so I obviously loved him. Wolfe was my favourite though. He was such an asshole at the beginning of the book and I loved how Caine grew his character and slowly showed us his humanity and the depth of his love over the course of the story. I can’t wait to learn more about him in the rest of the series and I hope we learn a little more about Santi too.
Mostly I’m just disappointed that this book has no memorable female characters, which is a bit surprising for this genre and for a female author. The book is interspersed with messages sent between different library officials and starts off with the library forbidding women from contributing to the collection of knowledge and then receiving a message insisting women and girls be allowed to obtain education as well, so I thought this book was going to go in a bit of a different direction. Caine introduces Glain, Khalila, and Morgan early in the book, but Morgan’s really the only one who matters and we learn very little about her. So I really hope Caine remedies this in the next book. I need more info and female character development!
The series definitely raises some interesting questions about knowledge though. I was confused at first because you couldn’t own books, but it seems you could still access everything on the codex, so I didn’t really see why it mattered that much. But the more worrying concern is that the library basically controls the flow of all information. Yes, you can always access things on your codex, but there’s nothing stopping the library from changing what information they distribute or manipulating your writings (if you happen to work for the library and are allowed to publish ideas). Obviously that’s the biggest problem with the library having all the power. The people don’t have the ability to share new ideas or speak out about that which they don’t understand or agree with. The library dictates everything. So I’m interested to see where Caine goes with this in subsequent books.
To finish, this was a pretty good book and I think it has a lot of potential. I will definitely be picking up the sequel!