Book Review: Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine

Posted September 12, 2016 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 2 Comments

Book Review: Ink and Bone 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.

Ink and Bone Genres: Science Fiction, Alternative History
Published by NAL Trade on July 7, 2015
Pages: 351
Format: Hardcover
Source: the library

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First in the Great Library alternate history science fiction series revolving around books and who is allowed possession of them. The focus is on Jess Brightwell and Scholar Christopher Wolfe.

My Take

The prologue sets up the premise behind the story, that of how incredibly illegal it is for anyone to own actual hard copies of real books.

It’s a horrible world. One in which actually owning a real book can get you killed. The Library of Alexandria rules the entire world of knowledge with its daughter libraries governing areas of that world. It began as a body which saved books for all to read. Now it restricts what people can read and destroys anyone who invent ways to reproduce books for anyone to own or read. It prevents knowledge from being spread.

“There are three parts to learning: information, knowledge, and wisdom. A mere accumulation of information is not knowledge, and a treasure of knowledge is not, in itself, wisdom.”

Caine’s take on the journal that the Library gave every child at birth was beautiful. A memorial that gave each person immortality. Until the truth behind that generosity comes out.

It takes half the book before we come to the conflict, and what a doozy it is! It will raise your ire…and unfortunately, make you think of our own government.

All the various Mag- titles are confusing, and Caine doesn’t help matters with all the plotting and betraying that’s going on. Don’t worry about making sense of it. Eventually it will become more clear.

It’s the betrayals, the self-blinding politics, that will make you fume. When you think of how much better it could have been before all that power corrupted…it will make you cry.

The Story

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…

“Tota est scientia”

(“Knowledge is all.”)

The Characters

Jess Brightwell is the current oldest son being trained to run. Brendan, the schemer, a.k.a., Scraps, is Jess’ identical twin, but only in looks, not in temperament. Liam had been seventeen when he was taken. Callum Brightwell, his father, is a brutal man who smuggles hard copies of books and makes an excellent, if illegal, living at it. Charity is his inattentive, uncaring mother. Uncle Thaddeus has moved north. Cousin Frederick runs a pub in Oxford. Ned is one of Frederick’s crew.

Jess’ fellow postulants will be housed at…
Ptolemy House. Thomas Schreiber of Berlin is hoping for a placement in Engineering; his grandfather was a silver band. Khalila Seif is the only person in the entire world and the history of the examination to receive a perfect score; she will be assigned astronomy and sophisticated mathematics with Scholar Zhao. Her uncle and guardian is Nasir. Glain Wathen is from Merthyr Tydfil in Wales and is assigned to High Garda training. Dario Santiago is a snooty Spaniard assigned to train in Historia. Anna Brystrom is from Denmark. Izumi Himura is assigned to the Medica for half-day training. Guillaume Danton is an American of French heritage. Hallen and Joachim Portreo are Dario’s cronies. Morgan Hault arrives late from Oxford.


The Great Library of Alexandria is…
…the ruler of the world of knowledge, of books, and its first purpose is to preserve and defend books. On the other hand, there are the Black Archives, the interdicts, the betrayals.

The hierarchy of the Library is noted by the metal bands worn on the wrist: the very rare gold, silver, and copper. Archivist Magister is the head. There are seven cantors, magnuses, who head up the specialties of the Library, which include Artifex, Engineering and practical arts which falls under Artifex Magnus (“the Artifex”) as its head; Medica; Historia; Lingua, literature, is headed by Lingua Magnus Cao Xuequin; Garda are the soldier branch led by Garda Magnus; and, Obscurist. I can’t tell who the head of the Obscurists is, but they do mention Obscurist Magnus Maryanna Sfetsos and Keria. All Obscurists wear gold, collars, and are the scholars who can perform alchemical tasks and maintain the Library’s Codex system. They are a precious resource and are kept in the Iron Tower.

The gold-bearing, battle-trained Scholar Christopher Wolfe will be the trainer for the postulants. A punishment post. Captain Niccolo Santi of the High Garda is his shadow. Wolfe’s mother is Keria Morning, an Obscurist Magnus.

Library Doctrines
The Doctrine of Mirroring is an art which can only be done by alchemists, a dying breed, and was discovered by Archivist Magister Akkadevi, the 402nd such. Think of it as the cloud from which the Great Library sends out eBooks to any who holds a blank, a type of eReader. It allows the Library to control whether a person can read a book and how that book (or newspaper) is written. The original concept was that books could be preserved while a blank can be easily replaced. I think, a Codex is the blank.

The Doctrine of Ownership states that the Great Library must own all knowledge, and it is illegal to own an original. One can purchase a dispensation to own certain real books.

Heretics include Scholar Johannes Gutenberg, Thomas Paine, and Scholar Wolfe. Abdul Nejem and his wife, Nabeeha, hoard books. Barzem had been the Alexandrian contact who disappeared.

Misr Station is the railway stop. The Alexandrian Express is the special train reserved only for the most senior officials of the Library on diplomatic missions or for the personal use of the Archivist. Gretel is a steward on the train. Rijuta Khanna and Yeva Dudik are two of the Alexandrian High Garda.

The Serapeum are…

daughter libraries and are Library territory with their own laws with their own High Garda, elite guards of the library.

Bodleian Serapeum of Oxford is…
…under siege along with the city by the Welsh. Scholar Tyler is trying to help Morgan remain obscure. Senior Librarian Naomi Ebele is one of three still within Oxford. William Smith is the current leader of the defense. High Garda who accompany Wolfe and his team include Costigan. General Warlow is the leader of the besieging Welsh army.

Aylesbury, England, has…
…a station of High Garda with secret orders.

Runners run books to their underground purchasers. I think cutters are part of the distraction runners use. I’m confused about Burners. They are against the Library’s hold on originals, and yet they burn books. On Sphere-Making by Aristotle is the only hard copy left in the world. Fiddlers are perverts who fiddle with children. Ink-lickers are perverts who eat books. The Translation Chamber is a teleporter. The Inventio Fortunata was written by an Oxford monk and was the last real book Jess read before he left to become a Scholar.

Aristede Danton is Guillaume’s father. The Garda are the police. The Southern Conflict is a long, ongoing war between England and Wales. A geneih, a.k.a., Roman, is the official coinage. Great King Ptolemy was simply another of those idiots who think women are unable to reason. Callimachus is the scribe who ignored his king and had his daughter taught.

The Cover and Title

The cover is one of deep colors from the molten orange of the books which disintegrate into the deep, deep royal blue of the background for the title, a blue that distresses into the lighter blue of the top with rearing lions at either end of that upper border. The author’s name and informational text is in white, the aged gold of the title combines Gothic flourishes in the initial caps. I’m not sure what the inspiration was for the underscore on the “o”. The series information is clever on its aged brass and curvaceous label.

The title refers to Jess and his passion for books, the Ink and Bone embedded within him.

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