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Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine

Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine
Book Name: Ink and Bone
Author: Rachel Caine
Publisher(s): New American Library
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): YA Alternate History / Fantasy
Release Date: July 7, 2015

My first novel by this author did not readily impress me at the beginning. A child-operated book-smuggling outfit run by a greedy, cold-hearted family—not all that unique of a plot device. Then, we find out it’s because physical books are a rarity, not found in the open, because The Great Library of Alexandria doles out copies of the real ones through their daughter libraries via “blank” tablets [similar to ebooks as I understand it] as they see fit by the use of alchemy. Still, nothing new on the theme of oppression of the masses by cultivated ignorance. But then, this alternate history tells the story of a world where the printing press never became a reality, where Burners attempt to overthrow their oppressors by setting illegally obtained books on fire publically, and “ink-lickers” actually eat the pages of rare books. Immersed in this world, book lovers will have a visceral reaction to the idea of not being able to own books, to being arrested (or worse) when caught with them, and certain gifted individuals being forced into working for The Library.

Jess Brightwell is part of a “prominent” family-run, book-smuggling operation in London. There is no love lost between him and his parents, whose sole concern is the success of the family business. When an opportunity arises for Jess to become even more valuable to the business, his father does not hesitate to serve him up to The Library for consideration. After intensive studying and testing, Jess qualifies as a Postulant, an apprentice to a Library Scholar, one of many vying for the six newly available positions. He and his fellow candidates travel to Alexandria to train for and be tested in the various duties all future Scholars must uphold. Their proctor, Scholar Christopher Wolfe, is an unforgiving teacher. Random Postulants are dismissed on a whim, and unannounced trials present mortal danger.

The pacing is rather slow, especially in the first half of the book. The author takes her time with the worldbuilding and introduction of characters. Things pick up rather quickly in the second half when characters start dying, and the Postulants are tested in the real world sooner than is ideal. Tidbits of this world’s history are slowly revealed as well. The Library seems to hold absolute power, answerable to no one. They hold a position of neutrality in political disputes but their actions can be devastating, wiping out entire countries when attacked.

When war arrives at The Library’s doorstep once more, sides are chosen and reconsidered when the contingents are backed against the wall. As more people become casualties and The Library’s motto—omnis cogito est (knowledge is all)—is upheld no matter the cost, long-held beliefs are questioned.

The secondary characters support the plot well. Scholar Wolfe is especially fascinating. This adult character is very intricately woven, which is rare for YA, but done so well that I couldn’t help but be captivated. Everyone has secrets, and it will be interesting to see more of them revealed in subsequent books. The diversity of characters is also great to see. Postulants are from all over the world and the typical stereotypes do not apply here.

And since this is YA, there is some romance involved. Thankfully, it was not overdone and didn’t obscure the main plot. Another bonus: no love triangle! There is actually a secondary romance with another set of characters. Both of these relationships were subtle and only served to strengthen the story.

If you love alternate histories and want to see what a world where owning books is illegal could be like, Ink and Bone would be right up your alley. The story may take a while to build, but once the dominoes start to fall, it is a mad race to the end that won’t let you stop turning the pages.

ARC received from publisher for honest review.


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