About the Book

Title: Ink and Bone (The Great Library #1)
Published: 2015
Series: The Great Library
Swoonworthy Scale: 6

Cover Story: Faux Folio
BFF Charm: Heck Yes
Talky Talk: He Said, in an Alternate Universe
Bonus Factors: Coach Taylor Award, Book Love, Diversity
Bonus/Anti-Bonus Factor: Series Starter
Anti-Bonus Factor: Censorship
Relationship Status: Bound Together

Cover Story: Faux Folio

For a book about libraries (and therefore books), it’s super appropriate that this cover looks like a fake hardcover. The little flames at the bottom of the cover also hint that there’s something ominous looming within.

The Deal:

Thousands of years ago, the people running the Great Library at Alexandria realized how powerful knowledge could be, and how beneficial it would be for the masses to be able to read all of the great works housed within the library’s walls. To that end, the library began creating a series of daughter libraries—called Serapeums—in countries across the world.

But as the Library system grew more powerful, so too did it grow cautious. Cautious of the power, and of the people who were seeking it through books. Those who ran the Library began to tighten their hold on knowledge, and on original works. Instead, they created the Codex, a way of transmitting a core set of (Library-approved, natch) books to the world.

But, with great power comes those who would undermine it, either for personal gain or strongly held beliefs. Jess Brightwell, son of one of the most infamous book smugglers in London and promising Scholar (i.e., the men and women who run the Library) candidate, must learn how to straddle those two worlds.

BFF Charm: Heck Yes

BFF Charm Heck Yes - sparklier and shinier than the original BFF Charm

Jess loves books, and will do just about anything to protect them, even if it means breaking the law or going against his father’s will. That’s a huge checkmark in the pro column. He’s a loyal friend, even to those who might not be the nicest in return, but knows when to say “enough is enough.” Another pro. He can hold his own in a fight, of both fists and wills. Third check. He’s a guy stuck between right and wrong, but struggles to assign those terms to an ever changing situation. Not really a check, but I can appreciate how difficult it must be to discover truths that are harder to swallow than lies.

(Basically: If you’re a decent person with good common sense and a strong wit who loves books, I will probably like you, just like I like Jess.)

Swoonworthy Scale: 6

Jess enters his training to become a Library scholar unsure about his position and unsure about the other postulants in his training class. Although there are a few ladies in the class, it’s not until Jess meets someone with whom he can be completely honest—and she in return—that he begins to think of anyone as anything more than a friend.

(There’s another relationship in Ink and Bone that I found much more swoonworthy than Jess and his lady friend’s, even though it was much less developed, but I won’t say anything more about it lest I divulge spoilers.)

Talky Talk: He Said, in an Alternate Universe

The world that Rachel Caine has created in Ink and Bone seems very far removed from our own, but it’s a universe that could run parallel to our own. A few small tweaks here and there in the time of the Pharaohs, and this fictional universe could have easily split off from the timeline in which we “real people” live. In fact, Ink and Bone takes place in the near future (2025), but one that’s been stymied by the Library’s tight grip on the spread of knowledge. For example, the people of Caine’s world still rely on steam-powered carriages and trains to get around, and yet there’s a magical/alchemical element that enables works in the Codex to show up immediately when called for (like an e-reader) and certain individuals have the ability to transport books, objects and even people, on occasion, across large distances in the blink of an eye.

As he’s the main character, we get to see this world through Jess’ eyes. Thanks to his upbringing, Jess knows more about the world than others, but he has to keep this knowledge a secret. As his training progresses, he (and we, the readers) soon learn that even the secrets he kept weren’t all there was to know. Jess is a well-rounded protagonist, and thankfully grows throughout the book. Some of the other characters were a bit one-sided, but even with their limitations, they were interesting.

Caine’s world is a fascinating one, and one that, if I lived there, I know I’d get myself into a lot of trouble in. Not being able to own real books unless you pay through the nose? Not being able to read unapproved works of literature? If I wasn’t born into a smuggling ring like Jess was, I’d quickly seek out a place in one.

Bonus Factor: Coach Taylor Award

Close up of Coach Taylor from Friday Night Lights at a football game

At first glance, the teacher assigned to instruct Jess and his training class, Scholar Christopher Wolfe, is a massive jerk. Jess and his fellow postulants are constantly on edge around him, worried that something they do or say will get them even further on his bad side. Eventually, however, it becomes clear that there’s much more to Wolfe than meets the eye, not unlike another dark-haired, misunderstood teacher we all know and love.

Bonus Factor: Book Love

Thanks in part to the Great Library’s stranglehold on real copies of books, an underground community of book smugglers and collectors exists. Although they’re mostly out to make a profit, the people who run these illegal businesses do have a real love of the written word as they believe it’s meant to be shared—in physical books, and freely.

Bonus Factor: Diversity

Faces of all different races, ethnicities and genders.

When Jess, a born-and-bred Englishman, gets to Alexandria to start his training, he meets the rest of his class, which is made up of people from all over the world: Germany, Wales, America, Spain, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Denmark. And those are only the countries mentioned explicitly.

Bonus/Anti-Bonus Factor: Series Starter

Stack of YA book series

Ink and Bone is the first a new series. It doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, so it won’t be too terrible to have to wait for the second book, but it does introduce a world that’ll be fun to revisit in the future.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Censorship

A pile of books sitting in the sand, on fire.

It hurts me to read about a Library censoring literature, but it’s not something out of the realm of possibility (nor is it something that’s never been done in our universe). It’s hard to believe that people who love knowledge above all else can also believe that they’re doing right by others by limiting what they can know. (But, thankfully, this sort of thing—in books, anyway—always leads to an uprising that eventually reveals all.)

Relationship Status: Bound Together

From the moment I read your title, Book, I knew we’d hit it off. We have the same likes and dislikes, and although ours might not turn out to be a romantic relationship, I’m totally willing to stick by your side to fight for the freedom of the written word.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from Berkley Books. This review was originally posted on Kirkus Reviews in exchange for monetary compensation, which did not affect or influence my opinions. Ink and Bone is available now.

Mandy (she/her) is a manager at a tech company who lives in Austin, TX, with her husband, son, and dogs. She loves superheroes and pretty much any show or movie with “Star” in the name.