Book Review: Ink and Bone (2015)

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Ink and Bone (The Great Library, #1) by Rachel Caine


And so the very institution we thought would bring the most light to the world has instead drowned it in shadows, and claimed that shadow as full sun. And we, poor blind creatures, have believed the lie.

This book was phenomenal. A wonderfully plotted novel.

The opening of this (both the letters and the prologue) are just so intense and wonderfully done. I was honestly not expecting the book to go that dark that fast, but the premise is brutal and interesting and a very sinister alt-history take on what might have happened if the Library of Alexandria never got destroyed in history, but was instead twisted into a method of controlling knowledge. (When I tell you I was like whoa, ha!) The Library of Alexandria has always been an area of fascination and awe (and heartbreak over its loss) for me, so this dark, dystopian twist is totally chilling to consider.

Jess had never imagined that someone would be so empty that they’d need to destroy something that precious, that unique, to feel full.

The scene with the ink licker was particularly disturbing. Honestly, it was fascinating in a creepy and horrible kind of way. That in a world where real books are the rarest commodity at all, smuggled via a black market, the subject of house raids and even executions, there are still people who want something just to have the pleasure of destroying it. Where the Burners burned books in protest of the Library’s rulings, the ink lickers just wanted to relish eating the pages. Spending vast amounts of money to destroy things. Not to protest like the Burners, but for the perverse pleasure of just … being able to. I was as horrified as Jess.

The Great Library may have once been a boon, but what is it today? What does it give us? It suppresses! It stifles! You, sir, do you own a book? No, sir, not a blank, filled only with what they want you to read … a real book, an original work, in the hand of the writer? Do you dare, madam? The Library owns our memories, yet you cannot own your own books! Why? Why do they fear it? Why do they fear to allow you the choice?

A dystopia based on control not just of knowledge and history, but on the control of the development of printing, is a highly fascinating concept. Jess, the son of a black market smuggler, is sent by his father to the Library of Alexandria to learn to be a Scholar. These are the ones who guard and hoard and control the dissemination of knowledge. There’s also a fantastical element to the whole thing. Books that are real can be scanned magically and their information is sent into the library. The way they do it is more alchemical than technological. In fact the Scholars are so against literary progress that they stop the creation of the Printing Press and arrest Johannes Gutenberg. They also prevent anyone who wants to invent anything that might allow for knowledge to develop freely. They want to be the only ones who can administer the truth and they control with an iron fist. So Jess’ father wants him to help their smuggling business from the inside. His twin Brendan remains at home to continue the family business.

‘You’re clever, Jess, but Da’s wrong about one thing: you don’t just have ink in your blood. It’s in your bones. Your skeleton’s black with it.’

On the train and at the school, Jess meets Thomas, Glain, Dario, Khalia, and later Morgan, and many others all competing for top six spots. Their protector is a grumpy man with little patience and a short temper, Wolfe. Always at Wolfe’s side is Santi, a Captain who also works for the Library. They learn how to transport books, how to raid houses, and other aspects of Scholar tasks. Wolfe is relentless and one by one the students are sent home. When Jess beings to show off his talents at transporting more books than most students are capable of doing (it’s the alchemical/(magical?) thing, sending the book information makes them all sick), and Wolfe and Santi take more notice of him. (Not great for Jess, the book smuggler spy.) But basically all the characters are hiding something they don’t want the Scholars to learn about. Jess learns that Wolfe has a dark, painful past in the Library; Wolfe and Santi are lovers; Thomas is inventing something in the basement, and Morgan is hiding for her life and freedom. But quickly their lessons and training become a very real fight for each one to survive.

The battle in Oxford was so harrowing to read. The Welsh and the English are bitterly at war in this book (a topic that personally impacts the group as Jess is English and Glain is Welsh) and the updates on the war occur throughout their lessons. When things escalate, the students are all sent to the warzone to help the last remaining Scholars in Oxford scan (alchemical thingy) books in the library in Oxford back to Alexandria before the war destroys the books forever. It’s absolutely brutal. So many characters die in like twenty pages. My heart was in my throat when Jess was suddenly given a baby in the middle of the warzone. (I love that we got a later update from Frederick on the baby because I WAS STRESSED).

The final scenes flew by. The tents, the train, the attempts to escape, the tears and the truths. SO MANY EMOTIONSSSSSSS. I sort of spoiled the ending for myself a little bit, but I was just so curious and stressed – I WANTED TO KNOW WHAT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN TO EVERYONE OKAY.

I wish I had the next books in the series because I’d love to dive into them straight away. I want to know what happens to Jess, Morgan, Wolfe, Santi, Glain, Khalia, Dario and all the rest. I want to see Jess and Wolfe team up. I want to see more of Santi and Wolfe’s relationship. I really loved them in this one. The protector and the captain. I want to see more of Dario and Khalia. Like oh my goshhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

I can’t wait for book two.

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