Warning: If you haven’t read “Ink & Bone” by Rachel Caine, do not read this review if you want to avoid spoilers. If you don’t mind spoilers or already read the book, feel free to read this review!
I’m back with another book review, and this time it’s “Ink & Bone” by Rachel Caine! Here’s a summary so we know what it’s about:
“Ruthless and supremely powerful, the Great Library is now a presence in every major city, governing the flow of knowledge to the masses. Alchemy allows the Library to deliver the content of the greatest works of history instantly—but the personal ownership of books is expressly forbidden.
Jess Brightwell believes in the value of the Library, but the majority of his knowledge comes from illegal books obtained by his family, who are involved in the thriving black market. Jess has been sent to be his family’s spy, but his loyalties are tested in the final months of his training to enter the Library’s service.
When his friend inadvertently commits heresy by creating a device that could change the world, Jess discovers that those who control the Great Library believe that knowledge is more valuable than any human life—and soon both heretics and books will burn…”
The plotline itself is a little slow. Though it mentions in the second part of the summary about one of Jess’ friends accidentally committing heresy and getting in trouble, this doesn’t happen until the last quarter of the book. Up until then, it comprises mainly of the training of the Postulants with Christopher Wolfe as their stern proctor.
In terms of worldbuilding, it succeeded in explaining the concepts such as the Burners, the Library itself, and so on. A lot of it is explained through the first half or so of the book without it seeming like an information dump, since much knowledge of this world is given through the lessons that Jess and the other postulants (another word for trainees, essentially) go through for majority of the story. The Great Library of Alexandria never burned down, and the printing press was never invented, which are the basis for the worldbuilding. I’m not quite sure why the English and the Welsh are necessarily fighting a war in the background of this story, however, and I think that could’ve been explained a bit better. A major thing in this world, however, is that personal ownership of books is completely illegal. Because of this, books are often valued more than human lives. This becomes a major point throughout the whole story, and I can’t reveal much as of why due to plot reasons.
In terms of the characters, I definitely saw the struggle between loyalties for Jess Brightwell, the main protagonist. Jess is obviously sick of being a book smuggler for his family business, and loves books to the point that he’s horrified when the client he delivers a book to eats pages out of a book in front of him, so the opportunity to train to enter the Library’s service is a bit of a relief from him (though it doesn’t stop his family from using him as a spy for their smuggling services). He’s bewildered and overwhelmed by a lot of the information he’s given, and he realizes over time how corrupted the whole Library system is and how fragile it is if the printing press came into being (only for the Library to usually destroy the inventor and such so they can keep their power) since the Library keeps its power by not allowing anyone personal ownership of books. It was interesting to see how conflicted Jess was being caught between various groups who want to use him for their own purposes and how he dealt with it all.
Christopher Wolfe had some of the better character development out of the characters in this book as well. At first he seemed like a merciless, potentially heartless character and would stay that way, but he developed rather nicely and quickly became one of my favourite characters as a result. He’s a jerk with a heart of gold—he actually cares a lot more for the postulants than he lets on. For the rest of the characters, I liked how the other postulants had varied personality or behavioural traits that differed from others to distinguish them, even though they were minor characters. Even if they didn’t have much development compared to Wolfe or Jess, they were still interesting to read.
There were two main romances in the book as far as I could read, and one of them was definitely written better than the other. Christopher Wolfe and Niccolo Santi had the better romance in this book, and their scenes together were the most fascinating to read. The relationship dynamics written between Wolfe and Santi were very interesting. Both of them have a certain trust in each other that they don’t have with anyone else, judging from Santi’s protectiveness over Wolfe to Wolfe being the most open to Santi out of everyone. They never explicitly say ‘I love you’ to each other or even kiss, their actions towards each other speak much louder than words. Jess even witnesses Wolfe and Santi hug each other and acknowledges it as love between them, later on in the book. The notion of Wolfe and Santi speaking with actions over words really helped build the chemistry between them. I hope I get to read more scenes of these two together and see what happens to them. I just also hope those two don’t get killed off.
When it came to the other romance in the book between Jess and Morgan, I thought it fell a bit flat when it came to development, even though they were the ones that had the explicit kisses and romantic confessions between each other. The way they got together seemed a bit sudden more than anything, and I’m not quite sure if Morgan truly loves Jess or if she was trying to use him for her own gain. Hopefully I can make more sense of their romance in the next book (Ink & Bone is the first in a trilogy, as far as I’ve heard), but for now it just seems really flat compared to Wolfe and Santi’s romance.
Overall, I would rate this book a solid 3.75 out of 5 stars for the decent worldbuilding, somewhat slow plotline and flat main romance of Jess and Morgan compared to the better-written beta couple of Wolfe and Santi. If you’re interested in a bit of alternate history where books are of high importance, this is definitely a book you want to read!