Friday, December 9, 2016

Ink and Bone (Rachel Caine)

Ink and Bone
(The Great Library series, Book 1)
Rachel Caine
New American Library
Fiction, YA Fantasy
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: From birth, Jess Brightwell's life has been defined by books - contraband items outside the all-powerful Great Library, which has controlled the flow of information worldwide for centuries. His father's trade in illegal original tomes puts Jess and his family in constant danger, with the Library's well-armed High Garda and cruel, alchemy-powered automata mercilessly hunting down traders. While Jess loves books, he cannot reconcile himself to dealing with the often unsavory clients of the family business... which is why Jess's father has decided that he'd better serve the Brightwells as an insider, joining the ranks of the Library to learn of new treasures and impending threats. Much as Jess has learned to fear the Library, he can't help but be excited: after all, to the average citizen, the Library represents the knowledge and wisdom of the ages, the bright light that guides all of humanity toward a better tomorrow, and just think of the countless books hidden away in the archives! But Jess soon learns that the gilded cover hides a rotten heart, as he's plunged into a world where nobody can be trusted and no secret is safe.

REVIEW: If knowledge is power and power corrupts, does absolute control of knowledge corrupt absolutely? Rachel Caine posits a near-future world where alchemy is real, exploited by master librarians to limit the vital resource of information. Several familiar assumptions (particularly for "Western" readers used to English- or American-centered stories) get tweaked, here; English-born Jess was proud of how intelligent his childhood spent around illegal books has made him, only to realize he's barely average compared to the rest of Europe, who themselves pale in comparison to Middle Eastern nations who have had centuries longer to enjoy access to the Great Library's fruits (it having been founded in Ancient Egypt.) As for America, it's essentially a police state, considered a lowlife hotbed for rebels and Burners, a violent faction espousing the dangerous view that human lives should matter more than books. No institution has clean hands in this world, and no characters here are free from faults or sins. Jess must navigate a maze of traps, not just those set by his stern, borderline-cruel teacher Wolfe - a man who also has a hidden past and his own agenda and who isn't above endangering lives to pursue it. Jess's upbringing among criminals serves him in surprisingly good stead as he finds himself surrounded by untrustworthy peers and questionable superiors, not to mention his own family and their contacts who make periodic demands of him; Jess's twin brother Brendan, who aims to follow in their father's illegal footsteps, proves a strange mix of ally and rival. It's a trial by fire for Jess and the rest of the students he's training with as they compete for a limited number of openings within the Great Library, all for their own reasons. The tale moves at a good clip, with several turns (many of them dark), setting up what looks to be an intense series. Once in a while, Jess seemed a little naive given his background and what he should've already known, but on the whole he made a believable, if flawed, character, as did the rest of the cast. I expect I'll pursue the next volume in the series, at least.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Red Rising (Pierce Brown) - My Review
Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians (Brandon Sanderson) - My Review
The Amulet of Samarkand (Jonathan Stroud) - My Review

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