Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Ink and Bone - Rachel Caine

Ink and Bone
The Great Library, Book One
Rachel Caine
New American Library

Alternate History/Fantasy

Jess Brightwell lives in London.  Not our London, but a London that’s a bit of the past, and a bit of the future.  In this reality, the Great Library of Alexandria was never burned.  It still stands, as a beacon of knowledge and learning.  There are Daughter Libraries all over the world, all controlled by the Great Library, and run by a highly-trained group of people.  It’s an honor to be a Scholar.  There are those who do the day-to-day running of the Libraries; there are others who conduct research; and there’s the High Guard, an entire dedicated security force whose job is it to make sure that the Libraries, the books, and the Scholars.

Jess’ childhood was a bit different than most who long to be Scholars.  His father was a dealer in antique books.  In this London, paper-and-ink books are extremely rare, and extremely illegal to possess.  The Great Library holds the original copies of all works, and is able to copy those works to ‘blank’ books upon request.  Owning a real book is a luxury and a crime.  And Jess’ father became rich by catering to those wealthy enough to meet his prices.  Now, he’d like to send Jess to study to become a Scholar.  Not because of Jess’ real love of books and knowledge, but so that Jess can be a spy placed inside the Library.

Joining the new class of hopefuls, who come from all over the world, Jess travels to Egypt by train.  There, they’re met by the Scholar who will be teaching them, and the High Guard member who will be making sure they make the grade, physically.  Some of the lessons border on the cruel.  The students must take part in a raid on a local house, looking for contraband books.  It’s a part of the job that isn’t pretty, but has to be done.  Some of the students will be dismissed because of poor (or merely, less than stellar) performance; some will be dismissed by a seemingly-random lottery system.  No matter how many students begin, there are only six places to be filled from this class. 

This alternate future is, in many respects, a sort of steampunk future.  It’s a catchall term by now, but it fits.  Scientific advancements exist side-by-side with steam engines and even a bit of magic.  Each of the students comes across as a real individual.  That’s a real feat in a story like this.  While Jess is clearly the central figure, we learn enough about the other core students to feel that they could be real people.  Over the course of this story, Jess has to make some serious decisions about exactly where his loyalties lie.  He also finds that everything is not quite as black-and-white as he thought:  In short, he grows up a lot.  It’s all handled in ways both subtle and overt.  There are at least two more books in this series, and I’m looking forward to them.

Rating: 8.5
July 2015

ISBN# 978-0-451-47239-7 (hardcover)

Monday, June 12, 2017

Planetfall - Emma Newman

Emma Newman


This is a science fiction novel for readers who don’t like ‘hard science fiction.’   Like the best science fiction, it’s very much character-driven; the entire story depends on the relationships among the people who inhabit the pages.  It’s also very much a thriller, with a central secret/mystery that drives the plot.  The fact that these characters are on a distant planet is really almost secondary to the rest of the plot.  Readers who enjoy mystery/thriller stories will be very pleased with this one.

The main character is Renata (Ren.) She’s part of a group of people who left Earth decades ago, in search of (among other things) a better place to live.  The Earth of this story is overcrowded, and run by huge outfits that merge the government with corporations.  The gulf between the haves and the have-nots continues to widen.  It’s not really hard to see why they might have wanted to leave.  This group built a ship to take them to another planet.  Their leader was Suh, a woman who had the vision and the drive to make it all happen.  They called her the Pathfinder.  This group believed in her enough to leave their families and lives behind, in search of something more.

As we meet Ren, she and the rest have been living in a colony at the base of what they call “God’s city.”  It’s a construct they still don’t fully understand.  It seems to have been built by an unknown people, but it’s also clearly a living thing.  As the story begins, Mack, the de facto leader of the group, calls Ren in a panic.  Looking out from the colony, he sees someone moving across the countryside toward them.  This is huge.  During planetfall, some pods containing colonists were lost.  Although the main group searched for them, no survivors were ever found.  The young man, Sung-Soo, says that he’s the grandson of Suh.  His arrival, naturally, causes a huge stir within the colony.  Almost everyone welcomes him with open arms.  Ren and Mack, however, are more reserved.  They’re worried that Sung-Soo will discover the secret they’ve been hiding for years. 

Ren is a fascinating character.  She’s a scientist, she’s a colonist.  She’s a daughter who left her parents back on Earth.  She’s a mother who lost a young child.  She’s a friend; she’s a co-conspirator.  She’s deeply flawed.  She’s a woman who is clearly tormented by the secret she shares with Mack.  She’s someone who feels as if she could step off the page and into real life.  Her emotional life is very much at the heart of this novel.  Her journey is what we follow.  We might have made different choices, but we can see (once we know the truth) why she chose to act in the way that she did.  The story unfolds in a very organic way.  If you’re at all on the fence about scifi, please give this one a try.  You’ll be so glad you did!

Rating: 8
November 2015

ISBN# 978-0-425-28239-7 (trade paperback)