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Paper And Fire (The Great Library book 2) by Rachel Caine (book review).

January 23, 2019 | By | Reply More

When a group of young people leave home for the first time to further their education, it can be likened to the situation of students heading off to university. All are reliant on their own resources, all experiences, new situations and all need to find how they fit into the new world. In the first book of this Y/A series, ‘Ink And Bone, that is exactly the position the new intake at the Library of Alexandria find themselves in, except that for those who don’t make the grade there is a distinct possibility of death.

The Alternative Future in which the books are set saw the Great Library come to be the dominant power in the known world. Not only is the Library the repository of all knowledge, but it regulates which has access to it and is very possessive about its resources. It has its own army, the Garda, and intelligence service. Real books are not permitted. Each citizen has the equivalent of a tablet (a codex), in which appears either the book they want and are permitted to read as well as messages. The information is transmitted to a codex by an Obscurist and, as this is a rare talent, all are secluded in the Iron Tower. Not everyone believes that the Library is a force for good.

At the end of the first volume, ‘Ink And Bone’, friendships and relationships were broken up as the remaining students were assigned their new roles. Jess Brightwell, who was a book smuggler before he was accepted as a student, is a trainee warrior in the Garda. His father still expects him to continue in the family trade, but Jess has other concerns. His best friend, Thomas, was condemned to death for drawing up designs for a printing press as any device which would diminish the authority of the Library is banned. His girlfriend, Morgan, has been sentences to the Iron Tower as her abilities as an Obscurist have been discovered. Despite the luxury there, she is expected to reproduce with a youth of their choosing, a fate she finds repugnant. Two others from the class, Dario and Khalila, have secured positions in the Library itself and have access to the archives stored there. The sixth member of the group is Glain, a Welshwoman who is deemed officer material.

As the second book in this series, ‘Paper And Fire’, opens, Jess has gathered hints that Thomas may not be dead but imprisoned somewhere. The Archivist and head of the Library is not the kind of person who will waste talent. Someone with Thomas’ skills as an engineer is useful as some of the tools the Library uses are automata, often in the shape of giant lions which will attack anyone not conforming to the rules.

The first art of the novel shows aspects of the Library system not shown before as the group settle into their new roles and use them to try to establish first, if Thomas is alive and second where he is being held. The second part concerns their attempt to rescue Thomas and Morgan before attempting to flee Alexandria. None of this is easy as Jess is already being watched as a potential troublemaker. When things appear to be going their way, he has to consider whether they are being led into a trap.

The book builds of the relationships developed in the first volume and strengthens the bonds of loyalty between the characters especially when they need to choose between friendship and the Library. There are parallels between the Library’s control of information and the electronic world we live in but at least we are allowed to keep and reproduce books. The question arises as to how much all knowledge should be available to all or whether there is some that should be suppressed and, if so, who decides?

This is a book that is easy to read and the diversity of characters is interesting. All have their own personalities. While it would be possible to poke holes in some of the situations, why spoil the enjoyment of reading it.

Pauline Morgan

January 2019

(pub: Berkley, New York. 2016. 383 page paperback. Price: $ 9.99 (US), $13.50 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-451-47314-1)

check out website: www.penguin.com/publishers/berkley/

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Category: Books, Fantasy

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