Strong Realism within Historical Fantasy | Review of ‘Ink and Bone’ (The Great Library #1)

By Cynthia Ayala

Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine
Image Credit: Goodreads

The Great Library of Alexandria holds all the power in the world. Knowledge is power, and for the library, their power means more than any book and any life. For Jess Brightwell believes in the library, and the profit he can obtain by smuggling out valuable books. But when his closest friend is imprisoned for heresy, his loyalties are put to the test as his life is put in danger.

Published on July 7, 2015 by NAL, Ink and Bone is the first novel in New York Times bestselling author Rachel Caine‘s new series The Great Library.

It’s always interesting to read a novel about books, and here Caine has richly re-written history to bring to life the Library of Alexandria, developing a world where it was never destroyed and it evolved to be the biggest power in the world. Here The Great Library has all the power, all the knowledge, keeping it all locked up behind library doors. It’s a strange world and both riveting to read and understand the power that books have in this realm and it’s very clear that Caine put her own love of books into this one, making it a very believable premise. No one needs to be a historian to understand the old power the Library had especially because Caine did a brilliant job evolving it and the world where knowledge it not freely given. It’s a vibrant and easy to grasp world because of how much Caine devoted to world building, not just by saying that this is the world, but by showing the reader through the characters, through how they understand the world, and how they fell about it.

It’s a well-written novel that does a lot of world building, giving the reader enough tension to keep them hooked, and enough foreshadowing that isn’t obvious until something happens. That is good writing, when the reader can suspect something nefarious but can’t pinpoint the who, what, when, where, or why. So chapter after chapter, as the reader is understanding the world, they are really understanding the darkest parts of this novel and how the value of life is secondary to the value of books. It’s astonishing to read something like that, yet something any real book lover can grasp. Yet in this world, the morals are twisted and since books have no way of being reprinted or reproduced, their level of importance goes up. While it seems extreme, again, it has a strong realism to it to ground the reader in the novel, forcing them to put it down just to think about what they absorbed from the text. Ink and Bone makes the reader think.

Now, while the writing was well done, the biggest room for improvement lies within the character dynamics because not all of them were well developed. Now, these are strong characters, and the ensemble here is an incredibly diverse one. Yet by the end, true they have all gone through some tough situations together, but for some of them, it’s hard to believe they are friends who are going to miss one another as they go on their separate ways. However, for the most part, they are a strong knit group, believable colleagues, and they do fit together well as an ensemble.

With enough high-tension driven moments to keep the reader hooked, this is an incredibly well structured and thought out novel. (★★★☆☆ | B+)

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