Book Review: Ash and Quill by Rachel Caine

Posted October 11, 2017 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 6 Comments

Book Review: Ash and Quill by Rachel Caine

I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Ash and Quill by Rachel Caine
Genres: Alternative History, Science Fiction
Published by Berkley Books on July 11, 2017
Pages: 368
Format: Hardcover
Source: the library

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Also by this author: Daylighters, Kicking It: These Boots are Made for Stalking, Prince of Shadows, Ink and Bone, Paper and Fire, Killman Creek, Honor Among Thieves, Smoke and Iron, Honor Bound, Honor Lost

Third in The Great Library alternate history science fiction series for young adults and revolving around Jess Brightwell and his band of fellow “traitors”.

My Take

Yet another exciting, adventurous, and horrifying story in this series about the incredible value of books, and a lesson in the effects of tyranny. It’s also about the pomposity of deciding who is allowed to read what. To decide who is an equal and who is not. Much like we are still doing today.

The powers at the Great Library are greedy and vicious in their desire to keep their stranglehold on the world. When you read of events and the decisions that lead to them, you’ll be shocked.

And I suppose you could consider Caine using simple third-person subjective point-of-view from Jess’ perspective as a type of power, as we learn only what Jess experiences, hears, thinks, etc.

Caine includes a number of subplots that vary in depth, one for each core character, in fact. The heaviest and deepest is what Jess must face with his scheming family and his father’s plans.

It’s a fascinating world with books as king. All power revolves around who has access to them. Imagine if Gutenberg hadn’t invented the printing press. Remember all the Church leaders furious that Gutenberg printed a Bible that anyone could read and interpret its words as they chose? It was a chipping away of the Catholic Church’s power base. After all, the freedom to interpret the Bible in your own way is what gave rise to Luther’s arguments and led to the divisions amongst the Christians.

And now…the game of betrayals is afoot in this fabulous sequel of intense censorship.

The Story

At war with Alexandria are the Welsh who have taken London, the Burners who object to the Library’s control, and the “traitorous” rebels: Jess, Morgan, Khalila, Glain, Thomas, and Dario along with Scholar Wolfe and Captain Santi.

All sides want to use them, for the power, the glory, the stopping.

Meanwhile, our exiles believe in the Great Library’s true purpose, but who will prevail?

The Characters

Jess Brightwell is, was, a new Scholar until he broke with the Library. His family are known book smugglers based in London with tentacles everywhere. Callum Brightwell is Jess’ ruthless father. Celia is his distant mother. (Witness their willingness to abandon Liam, Jess’ brother, when he was caught.) Brendan “Scraps” is the twin brother who wavers. Grainger is Callum’s secretary. “Cousin” Anit is family only in the name of smuggling. Red Ibrahim, her father, is one of the most powerful smugglers in the world.

Part of the exiled band of new Scholars includes Morgan Hault who is an Iron Tower-trained Obscurist; the Muslim Khalila Seif is a researcher who works in astronomy and mathematics; Glain Wathen is more along the line of a Welsh warrior; Thomas Schreiber is an inventor whose treatment by the Great Library set their rebellion in motion (an invention for which Scholar Gutenberg died); and, the snooty Dario Santiago is related to royalty in Spain. Rafa is Khalila’s trusting cousin. Frauke is the name Thomas gives his second automaton.

Christopher Wolfe had been recognized as a great Scholar until he presumed too far. Wolfe’s mother had been the Obscurist. Wolfe’s life partner, Captain Niccolo Santi, is/had been highly respected among and with the High Garda.

The Great Library is…
…at Alexandria and was intended as a preserve of mankind’s knowledge. Over the centuries, its leaders became more and more corrupt, wanting to retain all the power for themselves. The Archivist Magister is its head. (Callimachus was the first and warned of what the Library could/did become.) The Artifex Magnus appears to be second-in-command to the Archivist. The disgusting Gregory is the new Obscurist Magnus. Eskander vowed to make himself useless to the Library years ago.

The Library’s abuse of power is starting to gain attention, especially with the death of High Garda Captain Wellington. Zara Cole becomes acting captain. The Blue Dogs were the squad Jess and Glain had belonged to in Alexandria, along with Tom “Troll” Rolleson, Wu Xiang, Phoena, and one other.

The Burners would…
…rather burn books if they can’t be free and owned by anyone who wants them. Willinger Beck is the leader of the Burner city of Philadelphia and thereby of all Burners. Counselors Lindsay and Valin are part of the Council. Indira is his guard captain. Diwell is one of the guards. Dr. Askuwheteau had been trained as a Medica, and he has a personal library of many, many paper books. Benjamin Franklin had been a Scholar who left to join the Burners.

Blanks are essentially iPads. Everyone has a Blank to which books can be downloaded. It’s the easiest way to control who may access any book. Stormcrow is the common man’s name for Scholars. The Medica are the medical branch of the Library. Obscurists have great power, quintessence, and are generally confined to the Iron Tower lest they go mad and where they are bred. The Black Archives are where inventions and knowledge too powerful were hidden. The Treaty of Pergamum was signed by a number of countries and held the Great Library apart and above the laws of kingdoms — think Vatican. Translation is like Star Trek’s transporter; it beams you to other Translation Chambers all over the world. Serapeum are daughter libraries and are Library territory with their own laws and their own High Garda.

Gilles de Rais gets pulled in as an example; he was a companion-at-arms with Joan of Arc. Patel, Cormac, and Argent are more book smugglers.

The Cover and Title

The cover is red, black, and white, an explosive mixture for the Great Library has exploded, flames lightening the shadowed insides. Viewing through a hole in the wall, we look into that red inside and up at the black night sky, filled with stars. At the top of the cover, it’s a pale gray impression of burned paper / stone wall, ragged around the edges, and a background for an info blurb and the author’s name in black. Below it, framed by the edges of the hole in the wall is the title in that same pale gray, great flourishes around the initial caps. Below, on the rubble strewn black floor is the series information in the same gray.

The title is the meeting of two enemy factions, the Ash and Quill, the Burner and the Scholar.

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6 responses to “Book Review: Ash and Quill by Rachel Caine

    • Jenea, ask one of your librarians about the Interlibrary Loan procedures. You can put in a request for a book, and they’ll hunt it down at any one of the libraries in the United States. If it’s in the system, they’ll ship it out and loan it to you.

      And thanks!

    • You’re most welcome! And yes, if you love books and history — it’s always fascinating to read what the alternative might have been — you’ll love Armstrong’s The Great Library.

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