Book Reviews, Dystopia, Historical YA

What if the Great Library of Alexandria didn’t burn…?

Do you enjoy imagining what would change if X didn’t happen? Well alternate history stories can be really fun but we don’t see them in YA that often! Here is one you’ve GOT to read if you LOVE libraries!

20643052Ink and Bone

The Great Library #1
by Rachel Caine
Published July 7th 2015
by NAL

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Based in Alexandria, Egypt, the Great Library survived and now has a presence in every major city, controlling the flow of knowledge, by banning books and sending information through alchemy. Jess is the son of a thriving black market dealer who has been sent to join the library as a spy. As he goes through his training to earn a prestigious spot his friend creates a machine that will change the world… if its allowed to see the light of day…

My opinion Splat Logo

The world building sells this book…

Can you imagine a world where a library polices the people…? Instead of being jerked around by politicians there is the shady hierarchy within the Great Library… Just like any government that suppresses their people’s rights this organization feels that whatever means are necessary to limit knowledge that they feel will hurt the people (and especially themselves) is a worthy cause!

The best thing about being immersed into this world is that we don’t start within the library but without… Jess is connected to books, his family are dealers in the black market and he reads everything he can get his hands on like any other book lover! So we come from a place of fear (if they are caught they die!) but also from a place where it is worth it because, come on, books are our motivation!!

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I loved how she imagined the world as a sort of alchemical steampunk… without the printing press, of course knowledge is not spread to the masses and the random nobodies that advanced technology so swiftly are not getting the access they need to create radical new ideas. Within that vacuum though there is another kind of knowledge that is advancing (the obscurists) and the Great Library allows it to because it can control it! I loved this sort of melding of science and magic in a way that stood on its own as if it were developed within the world in question.

“They’ve all got stories, Jess thought. I need to know them. Best of all, he could know them. He could learn anything here. It felt like limitless possibilities.”

This select society of librarians created these prestigious spots that teenagers from all over, like Jess, could compete for at a sort of school! It’s that magical trope of boarding school without seeming to copy! I liked how it consisted of almost dangerous tests as well as working together some with the specialty you bring to the table. I thought the other teens in the group were showcased well using the aspect and helped us become familiar with most of the top students.

I appreciated that there is not peace to be had in such a controlled world and that we got a taste of that unrest… It starts with Jess and back history and as he comes into contact with it we see a little more each time! I love when an author pushes everything we learn THROUGH a character and doesn’t info drop just to get us up to speed!

The characters make the book a winner!

I liked Jess as the protagonist and a rather grey character. He’s not a full on anti-hero but he does do selfish things and things he regrets and I found that really refreshing rather than being a stupid character (which I detest!) I liked that he rather stereotypically struggled with a rival and made friends of some of the other students… The romance got a little instalovey (its rather sudden even though they had lots of contact and time) but I appreciated that she came along later in the book so we got lots of plot first!

“You have ink in your blood, boy, and no help for it. Books will never be just a business to you.”

Morgan is in a rather untenable position and really the outcome of her struggle is rather a forgone conclusion but I loved how she brought this added level of moral angst to Jess’s life. She tried to keep her distance but having failed that expects to be supported (rightly)! Jess having been the son of a smuggler knows that its better to survive to fight another day… This is so natural to who he is and the situation Morgan is in!

library gif - - Yahoo Image Search Results

Wolfe and by extension, Santi were great in their role as the “token” adults and teachers. You start off seeing them a certain way and as Jess’ learns different things about the men, you do too… I LOVE THIS! We see people a certain way when we first meet, but as we learn more our opinions change and grow… Wolfe is the mentor that I would love to have in such a world. Misunderstood but as I become an adult I start to see things with eyes that aren’t so black and white…

“The first purpose of a librarian is to preserve and defend our books. Sometimes, that means dying for them – or making someone else die for them. Tota est scientia.”

The competing students that rise to the top with Jess just behind enrich the time spent in the school part of the story… Dario, Jess’s roommate and rival… Khalila an almost certain Scholar… Thomas a genius engineer determined to get be Jess’s friend and bound to get into trouble… And Glain, a cold Welsh girl who surprisingly warms up! Danton is a mysterious kid who has suspicious experience much like Jess… And last but not least is Izumi, one I rooted for (you’ll see)!!

There is also this dynamite minor character in the second half of the book that EVERY reader should watch out for… Frederick Brightwell, he seriously impressed me!

Why only 4 stars then?

The pacing was slooooowwww. Not the entire book but in the beginning mainly… part of rushing the school part so there would be room for the second half of the book… Tightening here would have really helped and mayhap some connecting scenes would have been possible to make it flow better…

The writing wasn’t my favorite… I didn’t hate it but it was a touch heavy (I did get used to that) and the POV was all over the place… I would have liked to see that more balanced. It’s not that it wasn’t fairly easy to read only that going into and coming out of some plot points meant a lot of going over the same ideas… I felt like the way things ended for the secondary characters was rather predictable… A little better development and I wouldn’t have been able to see so clearly so early on!

I did enjoy the plot! Specific events were solid and I actually liked the second half of the book and the events that make up the climax! I just wish the beginning half worked together better with the second half! I wanted Wolfe with all his games and random cutting of students to be setting those who stay up to succeed in the library world! What skills are each student bringing to the table in this dangerous mission?! How does Wolfe expect them to succeed? NONE of this was developed or explored… Really the school half just formed the group and the mission half showcased Jess…

Overall as a reader…

Despite the weaknesses I really enjoyed the world and the characters! I can see so much more potential for the world and can see from her hints where the next books in the series may be going and I’m FULLY PREPARED to go along for the ride!! I want to see Jess come into his own as a person and as a man separate and distinct from his brother and father. And our secondary crew is shaping up nicely to support him in his rebellious endeavors… GAME ON!

You May Enjoy This if you go Gaga over BannerLibraries! Steampunk! Alternate History! Books! Ensemble Casts! Magical Boarding School! Dystopia!

My thoughts as a writer Typewriter Pink Purple Logo

As a writer I feel like the beginning with the school could have been developed better. Specifically I wish there MORE group tests. The one at the start in the room was SOOO GOOD! It was individual but group too! Why weren’t there MORE!?

In ANY library work situation you MUST work together with other librarians… there is TOO much work for one person, there are NO special someones who will leap to the top spot in the library without doing some due diligence socializing and politicking…

Ultimately any position of power is a political position and as such you have to have the backing of others within the institution! They would WANT librarians who can do this as otherwise they have to GET RID of the new librarian… (such a waste of training!)


⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Premise & World Building
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Cover & Title
⋆ ⋆ ⭐⭐⭐ Development & Storycraft
⋆ ⭐⭐⭐⭐ Writing & Narrative
⋆ ⋆ ⭐⭐⭐ Plot & Pacing
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Relationships
⋆ ⭐⭐⭐⭐ Feelings

Star Rating wordsRating Star 6Rating Star 9Rating Star 19Rating Star 16

Bottom Line words

A Library World with MANY book lovers to root for!

Lets Chat feather banner

Do you love books that talk about a love of books?

How do you feel about libraries? Did you want to be a librarian growing up?

Did you read the quotes from the book? Were they intriguing?

Thanks for reading XOXO

Dani Signature


4 thoughts on “What if the Great Library of Alexandria didn’t burn…?”

  1. The characters are always what make or break a book for me. I can overlook a lot (sometimes) but a poorly developed character is a flaw I can’t overcome. Great review! I look forward to reading this book (it’s somewhere in my almost toppling over TBR pile lol).

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