I’ve never read anything by Rachel Caine before because I’m not particularly interested in urban fantasy, and I picked this up purely because of the title. Super glad I did because I LOVED it.
Books and more books.
Books and steampunk and political intrigue that’s actually interesting and romance (and LGBTI romance without it being a BIG THING) and war and magic and learning and smuggling and drama and friendship and epic worldbuilding and a character who is just smug enough, but not too smug. Winning.
This book is about Jess, a reluctant book smuggler in alt-future London who really would rather be reading. His father sends him to apprentice at the Great Library at Alexandria (which in this world, has not only survived but now rules the world by limiting access to knowledge and outlawing the printing press) in the hopes of having a spy and ally inside the institution. This book, the first in a trilogy, tells about Jess’ time under the tutelage of the enigmatic and harsh Proctor Wolfe, who fails students at the drop of a hat.
At the end of the training, Jess and the remaining eight students are sent to besieged Oxford on a desperate mission to save hundred of rare original books. Not everyone will make it back, but was that what the Archivist of the Library had in mind all along?
This books goes and goes. I got to the point where I was getting sad that it was going to be ending soon, then checked and I was at 48%! I love a book that gets you involved, keeps you there and then goes for a long time. There was action, adventure and death without it being super gory. I enjoyed Jess as a character (other reviews say he’s bland and forgettable, which is annoying because so many times through the book I thought “ooh, he’s totally me at 16”) and I liked the interactions between the other characters.
The worldbuilding is great, I was totally right there with them the whole way marvelling at everything. The one place where I think the book falls down is it tries to touch on everything in that world. Smugglers – tick. Various factions within the library – tick. Heretics – tick. Garda – tick. Army – tick. Librarians – tick. I think Caine would have been better off diving into just one or two elements (for this book, perhaps the smugglers and the library factions), because just glossing over the surface of what the Burners are about, or what the Librarians actually do distracts from the rest of the story and doesn’t do those groups any justice. Mention them by all means, but don’t superficially go into history/politics/etc just for the sake of ticking boxes.
Now I’m off to find and read book two, because it’s raining and stormy and awful here and I need a distraction!