Paper and Fire Review: Steampunk, Diversity and the Corruption of Libraries

November 23, 2016 by Jeann @ Happy Indulgence | 4 stars, Books, Reviews

Paper and Fire Review: Steampunk, Diversity and the Corruption of LibrariesPaper and Fire by Rachel Caine
Published by Allison & Busby, Murdoch Books on July 5th 2016
Source: Publisher
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Steampunk
Amazon | Book Depository | Publisher | Angus & Robertson | Booktopia
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In Ink and Bone, New York Times bestselling author Rachel Caine introduced a world where knowledge is power, and power corrupts absolutely. Now, she continues the story of those who dare to defy the Great Library—and rewrite history…
With an iron fist, The Great Library controls the knowledge of the world, ruthlessly stamping out all rebellion, forbidding the personal ownership of books in the name of the greater good.
Jess Brightwell has survived his introduction to the sinister, seductive world of the Library, but serving in its army is nothing like he envisioned. His life and the lives of those he cares for have been altered forever. His best friend is lost, and Morgan, the girl he loves, is locked away in the Iron Tower and doomed to a life apart.
Embarking on a mission to save one of their own, Jess and his band of allies make one wrong move and suddenly find themselves hunted by the Library’s deadly automata and forced to flee Alexandria, all the way to London.
But Jess’s home isn’t safe anymore. The Welsh army is coming, London is burning, and soon, Jess must choose between his friends, his family, or the Library willing to sacrifice anything and anyone in the search for ultimate control…

A steampunk fantasy set with a diverse cast of characters dedicated to book lovers everywhere, what’s not to love about this series? I loved how Paper and Fire continued on with the world building and the concept of the Great Library of Alexandria hoarding all the knowledge, acting as a supreme government entity of oppression and stamping out all book ownership. With Jess and his friends now out in the world assigned to their relative positions, they work to uncover the corruption behind the Library and to save a friend who is in possession of valuable knowledge.

While the first book focused on training students to become Library scholars (essentially government roles for the most gifted), it was fascinating seeing each of the students act in the roles that they’ve been assigned with. From Glain being a respected but strict commander of soldiers, to Khalila and Dario as Library Scholars, to Morgan as an oppressed Obscurist in the Iron Tower, we see more of the world of the Great Library behind their roles. This provided a natural expansion of the original world in the first book, as we see the Great Library’s clutches stretch to all levels of society, even misusing the very knowledge they are deemed to protect.


As a soldier of the High Garda, with Glain as his commander, Jess Brightwell is as inquisitive as ever. Although he’s not the most gifted, he adapts to his training well and questions the world around him. With his book smuggling, criminal family and intellect, it is refreshing to have a male protagonist that doesn’t have strength and brawn as his most useful trait. I like how he unites his group of allies and drives them to rebellion. I also loved the quieter moments with Jess, his twin brother and his family, and how they showed their love for each other in very subtle ways. I did find his pining for Morgan to be quite distracting though, as the romance kind of feels out of place for me in this series.

Perhaps the most intriguing part about this world are the automatons that guard the library’s knowledge. We witness sphinxes, warriors and lions defending the library’s archives and it was fascinating seeing how they worked in tandem. I also loved the rich London setting, filled with expansive scenery comprising of marble columns, majestic artwork and stone archways. The world feels really culturally rich and filled with life, with the sinister feel of corruption and oppression. There’s also the presence of magic and Greek fire, which I’m still kind of confused about.

 In all the chaos of the world that counted people as different levels of worthy, the Library served all equally. All genders, races, levels of ability. It was the one place they could all be safe.

I also love how diversity is naturally worked into the story as each of the characters are from different cultures (which makes sense, seeing as these students are from all over the world). Khalila is a Muslim woman who is incredibly smart, but also softly defiant at the same time. Dario is a Spanish Draco Malfoy who is Jess’s rival, and the hardcore Glain is Welsh. Their tutors Wolfe and Santi are gay and in a supportive relationship and we get to see more of this play out in this book (YES I SHIP THEM).

One thing I struggled with in the book though, is the lack of a strong plot progression . Most of the book focused on Jess’s training and seeing his group of allies in their new environments. I knew they wanted to save their friend, but it took much of the book to get there, and I was disappointed with the quick resolution. Paper and Fire feels very much like a middle book, as it develops the characters and world more instead of providing an action-packed read. Having said that, I have no doubt that patience will lead us there with the next book in the series.


Although it’s not the most action-packed, I loved Paper and Fire for it’s unique world building and the diverse cast of characters. This is not a series that you can binge, but one where you have to slow down and absorb all the details. With a corrupt Great Library posing as an oppressor and steampunk and magic built around this, I really enjoyed Paper and Fire, even though it was a bit slow at times. Definitely pick this one up if you love diverse fantasy set around books.

Rating: 4 out of 5


Thanks Allen and Unwin and Murdoch Books for sending me a review copy!

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Jeann is an Aussie YA blogger and mum who loves to read and recommend books! You can usually find me fangirling about books on my various social media channels including Tiktok@happyindulgence, Instagram and Youtube.

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25 responses to “Paper and Fire Review: Steampunk, Diversity and the Corruption of Libraries

  1. Ooh sad to see the lack of action, but at least it seems like a build-up for the last book in the trilogy! YES TO THE ROMANCE BETWEEN SANTI AND WOLFE. 😀 I LOVE their interactions and thought they made a great pair in the first book. I reallyyyy need to start this one haha. And omg, the cover is so amazing compared to the US one!

  2. Bec Graham

    What. Even.
    Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I need to remedy this immediately if not sooner!
    (Also, second book syndrome is the worst. I hate when that happens to an amazing series!)
    My recent post If we were having coffee…

  3. fullybookedreviews

    I adore this series. The world building, the characters, the ships – barring one. The romance between Jess and his lady love feels so forced.

  4. Kelly

    I purchased Ink and Bone a while back but haven't gotten to read it yet, but have heard amazing things about both books in this series! I'm glad to hear that you liked this one…definitely makes me want to pick up the first book and read it!

    Also, I wanted to say that these covers are gorgeous in comparison to the U.S. covers! I absolutely love them!
    My recent post Review: All in Pieces by Suzanne Young

  5. lostnagoodbook

    Good review. I've never heard of this series. I'm going to have to pick up a sample. Love anything with a good Library!

  6. Kelly

    Wow, the Australian covers of these books are so different from the North American ones!

    You're right in that it isn't really the most marathon-able series… it's a slower build sometimes, but at the same time there's A LOT happening. It's great to read a book with such a large cast, and the world that Rachel Caine creates is fascinating… I'm really looking forward to book three!
    My recent post Review: The Abyss Surrounds Us

    • I know right? I love both of the covers, they emphasise different things. The Aussie covers are just so artistic! Yeah, somehow it all works in naturally, the world is built so well but there\’s no info dumping and yet it still advances the plot. I\’m so glad you enjoyed it too Kelly!

  7. booksbonesbuffy

    I need to catch up! I still haven't read this, but I'm going to try next month for "catch up December" lol. And wow, I love those covers! So pretty. The US covers are also really good:-)

    • Yeah, I love both sets of covers this time around! Lol I love what you said about catch up December. It\’s when we think we have all the time in the world to read everything but then whoops December is here XD

  8. This sounds really good. I've always wanted to read these books but I keep missing it on my bookstore runs. I love reading about libraries but a live library is even better!

    • I know right? It’s definitely a series for bookworms, there’s such great concepts built around the library and knowledge itself! Yay, I hope you enjoy it Genie 🙂

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