Ink and Bone (The Great Library)
by Rachel Caine
Review by Gayle Surrette
NAL Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780451473134
Date: 05 April 2016 List Price $9.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Many of us who love books and reading have wondered what life would be like now if the great library at Alexandria hadn't burned. Well in Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine, the library still exists and the world is a very different place than many of us would have thought. Plausible? Possibly. This is one possible world stemming from the continued existence of the Library of Alexandria and the adage, "Knowledge is power. He who controls the knowledge has all the power."
The year is 2025. The Library at Alexandria has daughter libraries (Serapeum) throughout the world. People can read, but they are not allowed to own books. Each person receives a book at birth in which to keep all their thoughts and daily notes. These books are slaved to books in the great library that keep them so that no knowledge is lost. If you want to read a book, you put in a request and, if you are allowed to read that book, the text will appear in your book so you can read it.
The world is not as advanced as ours as the library controls all knowledge and relies on alchemy, or something very much like it, to do many of the tasks that we take for granted. People send messages to each other via their personal books. There are trains, but there don't appear to be any planes. The weapons of war seem to be prevalent, but the printing press has not been invented.
As you'd expect with items that are severely restricted or controlled, there is an active black market in books for those that want to have personal ownership of books. Jess Brightwell's father deals in that black market. When he was younger, Jess was a runner. Now at sixteen, his father has plans for Jess. His father will pay for him to take the library exams and, if he passes the tests, he'll be sent to Alexandria for training and, if successful, will be sworn to serve the library in whatever capacity they feel suits him best. In return his father will expect Jess to do him occasional favors.
That's the set up. As the story progresses, you'll learn, as does Jess, that the world is not quite what he thought it was like and neither is the Library. Through Jess' thoughts, experiences, and interactions, the reader comes to see that there's a dark side to the world Jess lives in. There's more than a black market in books. There's a rebellion brewing inside and outside of the Library.
The world-building is unique, fully textured, and compelling. The characters live and breathe on the page and you care about them. It's hard to close the book on the final page since you'll want to know what happens next. This is the first in a new series and it definitely pulls the reader into this world and its people. I, for one, look forward to the next book, Paper and Fire which came out in July 2016.