Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Rachel Caine (pen name of Roxanne Longstreet Conrad) is no stranger to rewriting history in her many book series, and with Ink and Bone she does so once again, marking the beginning of The Great Library series. Taking us to a world where the Great Library of Alexandria survived the test of time, we follow a young man who witnesses the unravelling of a world ruled by knowledge, considered by some to be more valuable than human lives.
Table of contents
Rachel Caine Saves the Library of Alexandria
Besides the immediate necessities we need to survive, information might be the most valuable commodity available to humankind. At the end of the day, the more accurate knowledge we have on any given topic, the better we are prepared to make the correct decisions when the time comes; on the other hand, the less we know, the more frightening the prospect of the future becomes.
For many of us in the modern age, information flows rather freely thanks to the internet and social media, perhaps even to the point where we’re getting too much of it. In her novel titled Ink and Bone, Rachel Caine imagines a world where the Great Library of Alexandria not only survived, but also gained a control over the flow of information throughout the world.
The story begins by introducing us to Jess Brightwell, a very young man who firmly believes in the value of the Great Library for humankind: thanks to alchemy, it can instantly deliver the greatest works of history to anyone who needs them. Unfortunately, there is always a catch: the ownership of books is expressly forbidden to everyone, with only those in control of the Library having such a privilege.
However, Jess’ values are a bit at odds with his own upbringing, for most of the knowledge he gathered in his life came from illegal books… and now, he’s being trained to enter the Library’s service, with the insidious goal of being a spy for his family.
All goes according to plan until the day Jess’ friend is found guilty of heresy for creating a device which threatens to change the course of humanity, and most importantly, the power held by the owners of the Library. With the peoples’ thirst for truth and knowledge boiling, the fires for heretics and books alike are being lit.
A Convincing Alternative in Ink and Bone
Alternate history novels come in all shapes and sizes, all with different goals in mind. While some are only seeking to explore different outcomes to certain events, others look further and attempt to imagine the most extreme repercussions alternate timelines can carry, essentially transporting us into the realm of fantasy.
Ink and Bone definitely belongs to the latter of these classifications, changing one event in history and creating an entirely new and captivating world out of it, one which stands in stark contrast to our own as it is being run by the power of books.
In an age where the power of the written word seems to be fading in favour of videos, emojis, pictograms and what have you, I find the mere concept of Ink and Bone to be attractive in and of itself, playing an ode to the written word on more than one occasion. What really sets the world apart though is the amount of effort Rachel Caine put into cobbling the whole thing together.
While it does carry fantastical elements – such as alchemy – and takes place in a reality which feels insanely different from our own, everything still feels grounded in our world to a certain extent, and I think it’s because Caine has a sharp understanding of human psychology and behaviour.
Despite the lives of the people in this world being so different from my own, I didn’t actually feel disconnected from them because at the end of the day, they still felt like human beings who acted and reacted more or less as we would, drawing from the same wheel of emotions, hopes and dreams as we do.
The Magnificent Power of Books
I should warn you, the start of Ink and Bone is relatively slow, especially since Caine needs to take the time to build her world and explain what we need to know about the Great Library, the influence it has on peoples’ lives, and just how everything works in general.
However, once we get settled with this idea of a world where books are the driving force behind virtually everything in one way or another, the pace starts to pick up as we follow Jess on his grand adventure.
Always remember the words of Descartes: The reading of all good books is like conversion with the finest men of the past centuries.― Rachel Caine, Ink and Bone
Past this point, I would venture to say events start to take darker and more interesting turns, especially as we get to see Jess among all of his peers who are also studying to be servants of the library. As we get to see how twisted and vile some of them are, the world begins to slowly grow gloomy and just how much is at stake becomes increasingly apparent.
At the same time, the more villainous characters are never entirely evil, and Caine is quite good at consistently reminding us bad people are still, in fact, people. While I didn’t think too much of Jess’ character at the start of the novel, I did warm up to him as we got deeper into the adventure, largely because he actually does undergo believable and meaningful developments as a character.
He respects and adores the power of books as much as anyone else, and being caught between the resplendence of the Library and his family’s shady underworld book business does add an interesting layer of conflict.
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There is also a good deal of complexity when it comes to the relationships between our important characters, with friendships and relationships of all kinds rarely, if ever, springing out of the blue, being instead hard-earned for everyone.
The Final Verdict
Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine is a magnificent debut to The Great Library Series, with an incredibly well-realized and interesting world, complicated and believably-developed characters, not to mention finally an alternate version of history dedicated to book lovers. It certainly has the power to make us appreciate the ease with which we can access information in our reality, and even manages to have a satisfying conclusion despite being the first of five books.
If a meaningful alternate history novel revolving around the love of books sounds like it would be up your alley, then I’m confident this book would be well worth a try.
Rachel Caine is a pen name used by Roxanne Longstreet Conrad , an American writer who has dabbled in many genres, including science-fiction, suspense, horror, mystery and fantasy.
Julie Fortune is another pen name of hers. She has published a large number of book series to this day, with some of the most well-received novels including Glass Houses, Ill Wind, Ink and Bone, and Stormriders.