Published by Allen & Unwin on July 7, 2015
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Dystopian
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Knowledge is power. Power corrupts.
In a world where the ancient Great Library of Alexandria was never destroyed, knowledge now rules the world: freely available, but strictly controlled. Owning private books is a crime.
Jess Brightwell is the son of a black market smuggler, sent to the Library to compete for a position as a scholar... but even as he forms friendships and finds his true gifts, he begins to unearth the dark secrets of the greatest, most revered institution in the world.
Those who control the Great Library believe that knowledge is more valuable than any human life - and soon both heretics and boooks will burn...
Ink and Bone is about the love of books, and what happens when books get hoarded for their knowledge. In an alternate history where The Great Library of Alexandria exists, all the books in the world are stored and archived at libraries.
As fellow book lovers, what could possibly be wrong with a world where books are appreciated, hoarded, loved and archived by one of the most magnificent libraries of all time?
Well my friends, this is where Ink and Bone will shock and surprise you – knowledge comes at a price. Ink and Bone is set in a terrifying, bleak alternate history where The Great Library has an iron hold over absolutely everything – life, freedom, progress and livelihood. Having too much power has never been a good thing, and the Great Library abuses their power, by holding all of the knowledge to maintain control over its citizens. Books are the epitome of society, they are valued over innocent lives, and it is illegal to own one. Anyone found in possession of the contraband will be punished.
“I must acquire my own information, build my own knowledge, and, through experience, transform it to the treasured gold of wisdom.”
This is one of the most unique, genius high fantasies I have ever read, merging steampunk technology, magical abilities, in a dystopian setting. The world building does take a while to grasp your head around, as it’s complex down to the minute detail of a lifestyle of citizens at war, the competing ideologies of library loyalists, the radical Burners who want to burn all the books (the horror) and the powerful Obscurists who have otherworldly abilities but are kept captive in an iron tower. In Ink and Bone, eating pages, defiling books and burning them is the worst horror that could happen – even worse than dying.
I found the plot to be really fascinating, as the book weaves and advances the story through the trial while simultaneously building up this dark, gritty world so different from our own. London and Wales are at the brink of a war. Great iron beasts or automatons guard the gates to the library, and the obscurists are bred and born with a magical ability (which isn’t really explored all too deeply).
The complexity of the plot is expertly weaved into the tale of Jess Brightwell, book smuggler and contender for one of the most sought after places of all time – a role as a powerful Library scholar. Jess is a hero that I could really root for and get behind, he’s intelligent and cunning, loves and appreciates the finery of books and what they offer, and is loyal to his family despite how they use him. Most importantly, Jess cares about people, and the bonds that he’s built with his fellow students.
“The first purpose of a librarian is to preserve and defend our books. Sometimes, that means dying for them – or making someone else die for them.”
While the Great Library is set in London, the students are shipped off to the Library of Alexandria in Egypt for a time, showcasing the brilliant diversity in the story. They represent different cultures – French, English, Arab, Asian, Welsh and more. This is the diverse cast I’ve been looking for in a fantasy novel, and I loved how their personalities existed beyond their cultural identities. Each character is complex and although some are not immediately likable at the start, they’re each surprisingly unique and brilliant in their own way.
Jess and his fellow students are part of a trial testing their wits, knowledge and suitability for dangerous and rewarding library work. The students are tested by Scholar Wolfe, whose methods will also surprise you – there will be pain. There will be death. There will be brutal consequences to disobedience. Wolfe is a complex man, also hiding his own secrets, and I found his tale to be absolutely riveting.
Ink and Bone is a sonata to books, if you will, creating a fantasy world where books, libraries and knowledge hold absolute power. Every character here loves, appreciates, and even fears the power of books. And Rachel Caine constructs an expertly crafted world, filled with steampunk, dystopia, and magical elements that really brings a library dictatorship to life. I loved this exciting and uniquely crafted high fantasy and I hope that book lovers everywhere will appreciate her genius too.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Thank you to Allen and Unwin for sending me this book for review.