Book Review: Smoke and Iron by Rachel Caine

Posted September 7, 2018 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 2 Comments

Book Review: Smoke and Iron 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.

Smoke and Iron by Rachel Caine
Genres: Science Fiction, Alternative History
Published by Berkley Books on July 3, 2018
Pages: 430
Format: Hardcover
Source: the library

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

Fourth in The Great Library series and revolving around a small corps of Scholars and Garda who refuse to accept the corruption at the heart of the Great Library.

My Take

It’s a game of cat-and-mouse with betrayals zinging everywhere. Using third-person global subjective point-of-view, Caine provides access into the minds of a number of recurring characters with the primary perspective being Jess’.

The story is rank with power-mad people, and the destruction they wreak to enjoy that power. A prime example of what happens when the people rise up against tyranny.

Ooh, Caine pokes away at that male myth that women can’t handle too much learning. You go, girl! More “myths” include that truism of someone who says “believe me” who will do the opposite, just as someone who says they always tell the truth or never lie, are out and out liars. Lol, just like people who introduce themselves to me as being “Christians”. They make me want to run in the other direction, as they’re the least Christian people who exist.

It’s quite the busy time for Jess, Brendan, Wolfe, and Morgan, as our core characters intend to save the Library, not destroy it. Nor will they accept outside help if that could be the result. Naturally, the rebelling countries are more interested in their gaining power, through whoever in yet another disaster bearing down on them.

The Story

The Great Library is rotten from the top down, and this deal for valuable books, thousands of them, to be delivered to Callum Brightwell in London, is a betrayal. In exchange, Jess’ father will destroy his printing press. Yet another betrayal.

It’s an unacceptable trade in so many ways, with the Great Library betraying its own mission while the destruction of that printing press prevents people from owning, having, being out from under the censorship of the Library.

The Characters

Jess Brightwell had become a High Garda until he rebelled against the Library; he’s also his father’s heir. He has a twin, Brendan, a.k.a., Scraps, who has way fewer morals. Liam had been their older brother, until he was caught.

The rebellious ones include…
…Jess and Research Scholar Christopher Wolfe and Obscurist Morgan Hault who were returned to the Library by “Brendan”. Wolfe is in a dungeon with other jailed Scholars — Marcus Johnson is a Scholar Artifex, Le Dinh is a Scholar Medica, Scholar Maria Kent is one of the exceptional prisoners, Captain Ahmed Khan and Lieutenant Ariane Daskalakis are High Garda along with five others, several Scholars from Literature, an author, and various librarians including Kima from Leeds. Niccolo Santi is Wolfe’s lover and a highly respected captain of the High Garda.

Thomas Schreiber, a German Scholar Artifex, is mad for the mechanical and invented a printing press. Glain Wathen is Welsh and the ideal High Garda. Khalila Seif is another Scholar and very bright. Her loyal family — Saleh is a younger brother, the older brother and a younger sister, and her father and uncle &8212; has been arrested by the Archivist.

Dario Santiago also became one of the High Garda along with Glain. Dario’s cousins are the king and queen of Spain (Ramón Alfonse) and, Alvaro Santiago, the Spanish ambassador to the Great Library. “Brother Ferdinand” is a poor Franciscan monk.

The Great Library, Alexandria, Egypt, is…

…the repository of all books and all knowledge, strictly guarded by the Library, books that may only be borrowed through the Obscurist-created “WiFi” to appear on Blanks. The Archivist Magister is the head of the Library and is greedy to keep all the power. Neksa is the Archivist’s assistant. The Curia consists of the heads of the major disciplines within the Library and complicit in all that he’s done. Thomas Qualls is the Master of Cells, the Library’s chief torturer. The Artifex Magnus, second in power, is in charge of manufacturing weapons and automatons. Captain Chu is an unworthy High Commander.

Serapeum are daughter libraries and are Library territory with their own laws, think “embassy”. Hmmm, the Serapeum in Cadiz was designed by Gaudí. The widely respected Scholar Murasaki Shirasu is in charge in Cadiz. Fergus is the High Garda commander in Cadiz. Lieutenant Kali.

The Lighthouse is…
…headquarters for most of the Scholars. Scholar Parker is a Medica. Scholar Yang is not who they think.

The Feast of Greater Burning is a public execution of the Archivist’s enemies.

The Iron Tower is…
…a prison for Obscurists, the magic users who make it possible for this world’s tablets, the Blanks, to fill. The sadistic Gregory is the new Obscurist Magnus, third in power. Captain Nofret Alamsi is in charge of Tower security. The nasty Fratelli is the Master Copyist. Gregory intends for Benjamin Argent to breed with Morgan. The Black Archives had been a storehouse for forbidden knowledge.

Annis is the least-talented Obscurist and set to watch Morgan. She is known for her lovemaking, and Pyotr and Bjorn, who loves to play music, are some of her lovers. Friedrich and Millicent Thorpe are servants in the Tower. Natasha works with the Codex monitoring script.

Obscurist Magnus Keria Morning had been Magnus previous to Gregory. Obscurist Eskander has lived as a hermit in the Iron Tower for the past 40 years. They are Wolfe’s parents.

The Garda are…
…divided into the Elite, fanatics who protect only one man, and the High, like Jess, who protect the Library and its sister Libraries throughout the world. Lieutenant Zara Cole had been under Santi. Lieutenant Tom “Troll” Rolleson had been in charge of the Blue Dogs and a friend of Jess’ as was Centurion Botha.

The Enemy

Burners are rebels all over the world who believe that books, real books, should be available to anyone. That they should be able to own books for a personal library.

Smugglers supply real books to anyone who can pay. Callum Brightwell is Jess’ and Brendan’s grasping father, a smuggler of books who is based in London.

Red Ibrahim is one of the biggest, most notorious book smugglers — his public business is in shipping and storage — and is based in Alexandria. The fourteen-year-old Anit is his daughter and his heir, sailing back to Alexandria in the Valiant Isis with Santi, Khalila, Dario, and Glain her prisoners. Red Ibrahim’s lieutenants include Tadalesh.

Elisinore Quest is a skilled Mesmer (hypnotist).

The Treaty of Pergamum is the foundational document that ensured the Great Library’s neutrality. Until now, as Spain, Wales, England, Portugal, Turkey, Russia, Japan, the exiled queen of France, and the United Colonies of America have all pulled out. Codexes are like the Internet, passing news back and forth. The Translation Chambers are similar to a Star Trek-style transporter.

The Cover and Title

The cover is a broken library wall that’s taken out the top edges of a shelf of ancient books, but that too is only a cover for what the Great Library is hiding in their black corruption. The hole itself is jagged but for the top edge, a silhouette of sphinxes facing each other, tails swishing. A pair of info blurbs are at the top in a pale yellow with the author’s name directly below it in an embossed white in a gothic-style font. The title is inside the black hole with much fancier initial caps in an aged gradient of golden brown to vintage yellow. A smaller slash below that reveals the series information.

The title is metaphorical with the “smoke” of Jess’ charade and the “iron” being Morgan’s part in Smoke and Iron.

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