Rachel Caine is one of those authors that I’ve always meant to read, but never have. Ink and Bone is the start of a new series of hers. It’s part fantasy and part alternate history. I’ve always found the story of the Library of Alexandria interesting and also tragic, so it was cool to read a book that focused on it. In Ink and Bone, the Library has survived and has become an intimidating source of power. There are offshoots in every major city, fighting to preserve knowledge. They have become their own separate government in a way, able to move in and out of cities at war in an effort to save manuscripts stored at libraries across the world. Cross the library and you may find yourself wiped from the map. Jess Brightwell is the son of a book smuggler–a crime punishable by death due to the forbiddenness of owning books. He enters the library’s service as a spy for his family but soon finds his loyalties tested as he makes friends while training. He finds that the library has its priorities a little less than straight and quickly discovers that challenging the library has irreversible consequences.
This was a pretty steady read, plot-wise. Things that were meant to be surprising later had a kind of shot-in-the-foot quality because of heavy foreshadowing through the means of letters and messages early in the novel. However, even with that happening in the novel I did enjoy Ink and Bone very much. Tendrils of the plot reached out for the next book in the planned trilogy without leaving too many questions unanswered. There was a nice balance between that and how the author drove readers toward the outcome of this novel. Although there are serious things that were alluded to in Ink and Bone, it didn’t go into too much detail. It could have potentially gone darker than it did and I’m still on the fence on whether I wished it had or not. The plot was not on par with the setting, which was the strongest part of the book.
I didn’t really feel like I got into the heads of the characters too much, even Jess. I got his motivations and desires, I just couldn’t get too excited about anything he did. Because Ink and Bone is as much about Jess and his family as it is about the power of the Library, I wasn’t surprised when he was able to do things that others couldn’t. It’s standard fare in young adult novels nowadays because there are only so many ways that they can go. I did really enjoy that this young adult novel was told from the point of view of a male protagonist, however. There are a lot of young adult novels that have girl protagonists and too few with boy protagonists, so it was a nice change. Unfortunately, because the other characters were mostly there to be the smart one, the jerk, the love interest, the best friend, and the _______, I couldn’t really connect with them and their relationships to Jess. Their interactions just kind of happened and then the book moved on. They weren’t made important enough. They were interesting, just not interesting.
The setting was absolutely my favorite part about Ink and Bone, so the slightly meh characters didn’t bother me too much. The setting is what drove the story for me. I absolutely wanted to live in Jess’ steampunk, altered history London, even if it is on the brink of war and the automatons outside of the Library are pretty scary. It was just so vibrant and alive with characters both normal and creepy. I gasped aloud while reading the part with the ink-licker–*bad word omitted* who EAT books (I still can’t handle it, thinking about it now)–and simultaneously was terrified and intrigued by the fanaticism and stark contrast to the Library that the Burner sect had. When the book turned toward Alexandria and other places, they were just as richly outfitted as I could have wanted. I felt their pain when they realized that their clothing choices were poor for Alexandria–hello, heat and uncontrollable sweating! It was wonderful. I just love alternate history settings, and when steampunk, alchemy, and books and the love of them are thrown together, it works for me. The setting was the reason that I liked the book as much as I did.
I got a copy of this through a contest, and am so glad I did!