Ohhh, this was a fun one, you guys. I really enjoyed it. (Thanks as always to Aless for throwing YA series at me with gusto)
The premise of the series is as follows, The Great Library of Alexandria was not destroyed and as such it was what became the great power. Not The Roman Empire. Not The Church. And history was shaped by a completely different values set as a result.
Ink And Bone
Paper And Fire
Ash And Quill
Smoke And Iron
Sword And Pen
Rachel Caine grew up in West Texas and published her first series, The Weather Warden in 2004. She writes a combination of Adult Urban Fantasy and YA Fantasy, and also writes under the pen name Julie Fortune. I like the look of some of her other stuff, so I might check it out. I really enjyed the writing on this series.
We start with Jess Brightwell, a teenage boy from London’s POV and stick with him for most of the series, though by book 3, we also get chapters from his classmates and allies. The Library has banned all ownership of books, instead using alchemy to project copies onto “blanks.” (There’s an oddness to reading a library loaned kindle copy of this series) Jess’s family has made their fortune stealing, smuggling, and selling rare original books. His father is sending him to train as a Librarian so that he can eventually help them steal directly from the library.
But it turns out there’s more going on than Jess realized and he and his friends and their teacher, Scholar Christopher Wolfe, begin a change of events that start a revolution.
In between the story are italicized “Ephermera” letters from characters to one another, old Library records that reveal bits of the different history. (Thomas Paine began a faction of rebels called “Burners” who burn books to show how valueless lives and free thought have become. I love that even in an alternate reality, Thomas Paine is gonna Thomas Paine)
“Any authoritarian organization, given enough time, will go bad.” – Sara Lance, Legends Of Tomorrow, Season 3, Episode 3 “Zari”
The horrible secret that our hero Jess Brightwell and his friends discover is that the library has been halting the natural progress of both society and science at crucial moments when advancements were deemed “too dangerous.” Now, that danger morphed from “dangerous to people” to “dangerous to the power of the library.” The main one being of course, the printing press, which was surpressed each time it was individually thought of.
Look, I’m an American and a Catholic, if there’s one thing I am deeply aware of in my own identity and society it is the way something with benevolent intent and ideals can be twisted to surpress, hurt and destroy. It’s something I reckon with pretty much daily. But what I loved about the themes of rebellion against authoritarianism in this series was that the Library was not deemed so corrupt it couldn’t be saved. The ideals were deemed worth fighting for and reforming. That rules.
I really really enjoyed Smoke And Fire, which is where the real organization of rebellion began. It was a lot of fun. It’s also the book that doubles down on Scholar Wolfe and his partner Captain Niccolo Santi as the most epic of epic love stories. Seriously, it rules.
Least Favorite Book
Ash And Quill had a lot of promise that didn’t really go anywhere which bummed me out.
Khalila Seif is one of Jess’s classmates, she from a prominent Saudi Arabian family, a devout Muslim, and the most intelligent and thoughtful and kind person in the story. She’s also a badass politician. Seriously, I’m obsessed with her
I’ll probably revisit in a few years. I very much enjoyed it and I’d like to catch things I might have missed. A lot like with the Leigh Bardugo stuff, this is a world I just really enjoyed being in. I’m not crazy about Jess and so it’s hard to get super invested.
I’m not sure what’s next here, to be honest. I’ve got a stack of more reality based books that have been calling my name, plus the two book clubs will be making their choices in the next week or so. I’ll update when I finish another series.