Recently I read another “book about books,” Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine, book two of “The Great Library Series.” Originally written for young adults and in the “steampunk” tradition, the book appeals to young and older readers alike. It is an Alternate History, where the great library of Alexandria survived, instead of burning, and by the time of this novel, it is all-powerful and in complete control of all knowledge. Personal ownership of books is forbidden although people have access through tablet-like devices to the words and world of books. This situation makes black-market books, especially old ones, very big business.
The story opens as Jess, a young bookrunner, is being chased by Library Gardas and automatons across the busy marketplace. With the help of his twin brother, Brendan, who is described as “a schemer,” Jess escapes. Shortly afterward, the boys’ father sends Jess into “Library Service” to spy on its activities and to determine the location of ancient books, so Brendan can steal them to further the family’s illegal business. Jess’s training is rigorous, and he ends up making friends with other candidates who compete against him. Exciting book-related and library-related adventures ensue, and one turns the pages with anxiety and even dread at times. Action-fueled scenes bring the fatal “Greek Fire” of the alchemists, an encounter with an inklicker, and many encounters with bookburners The Library is seeking to prosecute.
Jess and his friends are well-drawn, and the author makes the reader care about what happens to each of them, even the ones who at the beginning are arrogant or worse. Characterization, a skill I seek in every book I read, is second only to the fast-paced, breath-holding pace of the action and plot. This is a fun read and promises much in the next book of “The Great Library Series.”