Warning: If you have not read “Paper and Fire” by Rachel Caine, avoid reading this review if you don’t want spoilers. If you have already read the book or don’t mind spoilers, go ahead and read it!
I’m back with another book review, and it’s “Paper and Fire” by Rachel Caine this time! This is the sequel to “Ink and Bone” by the same author. Here’s a summary so we know what it’s about:
“With an iron fist, the Great Library controls the knowledge of the world, ruthlessly stamping out all rebellion and, in the name of the greater good, forbidding the personal ownership of books.
Jess Brightwell has survived his introduction to the sinister, seductive world of the Library, but serving in its army is nothing like he envisioned. His life and the lives of those he cares for have been altered forever. His best friend is lost, and Morgan, the girl he loves, is locked away in the Iron Tower, doomed to a life apart from everything she knows.
After embarking on a mission to save one of their own, Jess and his band of allies make one wrong move and suddenly find themselves hunted by the Library’s deadly automata and forced to flee Alexandria, all the way to London.
But Jess’s home isn’t safe anymore. The Welsh army is coming, London is burning, and soon, Jess must choose between his friends, his family, and the Library, which is willing to sacrifice anything and anyone in the search for ultimate control…”
In terms of the plotline, it was definitely a bit more fast-paced than the last book, and that was nice. However, it did lag a bit in the last quarter or so of the book, mainly because they managed to rescue Thomas by then (yes, he’s alive!) and then spent the rest of the time being sitting ducks to the Library’s forces. What I disliked the most was the very, very sudden cliffhanger. If you want an idea of what it felt like without reading the book, it’s like running down a nearly endless hallway…only to hit a closed door when you least expect one. It’s fair to say, though, that it will be interesting seeing how the main characters fare in Philadelphia, America, where the Burners reign rather than those devoted to the Library. The plot itself was engaging enough that it made want to read all the way through, and I literally read the book in less than five hours as a result.
In terms of worldbuilding, however, it was rather well written. We learn about the Black Archives, more information about the Iron Tower where the Obscurists are housed, and get a lot more backstory on Wolfe and Santi’s relationship as well as Wolfe’s past in general. It also turns out that Wolfe and Thomas aren’t the only ones to come up with the printing press, either, though I won’t elaborate on this point further to avoid major spoilers.
When it came to characters, I had mixed reactions. Most of the notable new characters are killed off pretty quickly, including Wolfe’s mother who was easily the best developed one out of all of them. I wish they had more of a function that just simple plot devices for one or two scenes in the book, like how Jess’ brother and father were used. I also think that Frauke, the automata lion the main characters got on their side, could’ve lasted a bit longer than one or two chapters and could be a kind of nice pet or ally as comfort for the other main characters, given the near-death scenes or actual death scenes that occurred, rather than being ripped apart a few chapters after its introduction.
When it came to the main characters, I was both pleased and disappointed with what developments they had. The good news is that no one was too horrendously out of character. The bad news was that none of them got much development. When it came to writing Wolfe, especially, I felt that there was too much focus on the torment he had to face and also relive again (no thanks to Jess trying to figure out where Thomas could be imprisoned by pressuring Wolfe to go through a Mesmer session to recover memories of his past imprisonment), not really balancing it with the sharpness and cleverness he also had in “Ink and Bone.” I think Jess, given that he is the protagonist, could have used more development as well, though it’s obvious that he has his smarts and is clever enough to think quickly in some life-or-death situations in the book, unlike Dario who is stumbling around a lot in comparison.
When it came to romances in the book, I felt that Khalia’s romance with Dario was a bit over the top at times, especially when Khalia and Dario were separated for some time in the book with Khalia constantly worrying over him rather than focus on the plan of saving Thomas and trying to dismantle the Library’s strict control. Morgan and Jess’ romance felt horrendously forced this time around, even more than the first book, and it made me dislike Morgan as a character even more. It’s fair to say she’s the first character I hope is killed off in the next book because I dislike her so much as both Jess’ love interest and because she’s a flat character in general compared to the rest of the main characters, with or without Jess. As for Wolfe and Santi’s romance, however, it was developed further and it’s obvious that both would, quite literally, do anything to make sure the other is safe. They have arguments about this early on in the book, but their devotion to each other is incredibly tight-knit, something that Wolfe’s mother points out later on in the book. It’s sweet to know that Wolfe’s mother is grateful that Santi is there for Wolfe and vice versa, and it’s relieving to report that Wolfe and Santi’s relationship is still going strong (though both Wolfe and Santi nearly got killed at various points in the book, which scared me a lot).
Overall, I rate this book 3 out of 5 stars for the lack of character development, the vast amount of killing-off of new characters, and the sudden cliffhanger as well as the horribly-forced Jess-and-Morgan romance. I hope the quality of what was in the first book will be more consistent in the third book.