Ink and Bone
(The Great Library: Book 1)
Set in a dystopian world that imagines the Library of Alexandria never burned, Ink and Bone is a book for those that love books. It begins with the striking scene of ten year old Jess Brightwell watching a man destroy the only existing hand copy of On Sphere-Making by Archimedes by eating the pages. His resulting revulsion sets the tone for a story about humanity, knowledge and power.
Jess lives in a world where the Library has absolute control over all available reading material and owning real copies of books is banned. Instead they depend on alchemy to mirror text to what are called blanks. Human nature being what it is there is a bustling black market trade in real books. The Brightwell family is a predominant figure in this market, but Jess only feels like he is constantly used by his family. In order to get a set of eyes and ears into the Library, Jess’ father sends him to study and become part of of the Library in Alexandria itself.
There he meets his diverse fellow students (postulants) and begins to learn more of the dark nature of absolute control that is the real business of the library. Their motto is “books before people” and they embody it to the very core. This has created a fanatical opposition in the form of Burners. Burners hold that human life is more important than a book or knowledge and make repeated attempts to burn Libraries to bring down the Library and it’s iron control.
This is a fully realized world of alchemy and steam where it feels like every detail matters. It’s only the first book in a series so the explanations of the actual alchemy aren’t terribly in depth, but I strongly suspect we’ll learn more about it in the sequel(s). There are “living” statues powered by gears and steam that invoke a subtle feeling of dread. There’s a war where the price of knowledge over human life is fully explored.
Ink and Bone definitely feels like a young adult novel, but it’s a very good one. The writing is periodically simplistic and there’s a somewhat forced love substory. For all of that though, it’s an immensely enjoyable read. As stated above, it’s a book lovers book, but it’s also so much more than that.