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)


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