Rachel Caine takes us Inside the Library
Our civilization is controlled by a number of external and internal factors, and I believe one of the more prominent ones to be knowledge. Those who have a better and more accurate understanding of the real picture are much-better equipped to make decisions which are impactful on a larger scale, as is precisely the case in Rachel Caine’s Paper and Fire, the second book in The Great Library series.
Picking up where the first book left off (you definitely do need to read them in order I’m afraid), we are once again returned to a dystopian reality, one where the totality of knowledge is controlled by the Great Library of Alexandria, which survived the great fire meant to ravage it. Becoming an ominous symbol of total power, the library represents much more than a mere collection of books.
Our hero from the first book, Jess Brightwell, returns to the fore as he now finds himself inducted into the Library, with the immensely-coveted opportunity to witness its inner workings. However, nothing remains perfect forever, and Jess finds out Thomas is not only still alive, but being tortured by the Library’s authorities.
They set out to find and save him, embarking on a rather dangerous and delicate quest they aren’t exactly suited for… a fact which rears its head when the plan inevitably goes awry. With some collateral damage on their conscience, Jess and his friends find themselves hunted by the Library’s automatons and are forced to flee from Alexandria… all the way out to London.
The Great Library might be all powerful today, but all lights fade eventually, and even the biggest of empires can crash into nothing.
A Face for the Faceless Evil in Paper and Fire
For the larger part of our journey through this very alternate history of the world, we’ve seen the Great Library as being something of a monolith, a faceless entity focused on grasping all knowledge, power and control away from the people. Up until now, we haven’t really gotten to see the faces beneath the machine… even the greatest of constructs are run by people.
With Jess having been inducted into the Library, we now have a fairly good opportunity to take a look at some of its inner workings, and most importantly, the people responsible for them.
Instead of being uniform in mind and goal, we are actually presented with a fairly diverse cast of people who, surprisingly, have their own ideas and opinions about the world they live in.
As much as we see those who are hell-bent on wrestling power away from the rest of the world, we also meet the other, more reasonable and compassionate individuals who truly care about the preservation of knowledge above all.
In other words, there is a lot more nuance and discord from within the Library than we were first led to imagine, laying a comprehensive foundation to explore it in greater depth in the future. While we do get some answers and revelations we’ve been seeking, they aptly lead to greater questions, complicating the picture further and further.
While I was definitely eager to learn more than what Caine revealed in Paper and Fire, I think it strikes a very good balance, for the sake of a book series at least, in terms of giving us information while keeping the sense of mystery alive. There is still a lot left to discover about the place of alchemy in this world and what kind of power the Obscurists wield.
The Ties Which Bind Us
Other than being an exploration of an alternate world history, this book, like its predecessor, also offers a fair amount of action, adventure and excitement all-around with a lot of different characters to play with. Jess’ group of friends is relatively extensive, and we slowly continue to learn more and more about them as they find themselves in increasingly perilous situations.
While I wouldn’t say the character development in this book is ground-breaking by any means, it fits the pace of the story quite well and it feels like we’re organically learning about who they are on the inside via their actions and decisions, rather than out-of-place exposition dumps.
By the end of it, I felt a good bit closer to our cast of characters as they became more relatable, while still having questions left to answer. They all quite clearly have bits of their history left to uncover, giving this exciting little bit of uncertainty as to whether or no we can indeed fully trust them.
In most young adult novels things are pretty clear-cut when it comes to the characters, so I definitely appreciated the nuance by Caine. Add to this the visibly-raised stakes they are facing, and we have a great recipe for characters we’d love to trust but aren’t sure we can… so we pick our favourites and hope they turn out all right.
The pace also picks up as you enter the second half of the book, and I have to say, Caine has definitely mastered the art of describing action scenes. Every single movement and detail can be clearly and easily pictured, almost as if this was a movie script rather than a novel, and it’s all only complemented by the fact we can actually care about the characters in those scenes.
The Final Verdict
Paper and Fire by Rachel Caine is an excellent sequel to Ink and Bone, further developing the world, characters and story while still treating us to expertly-crafted action scenes along the way.
If you’ve enjoyed the first book and want to see more of this very unique concept for an alternate course in history, then you can’t go wrong with this novel.
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.