by Rachel Caine
Reviewed by SA
I won a giveaway! I could not believe it when NovelReveries and BerkleyPub told me I won this awesome book I had been dying to read for ages. I mean, it had me at the premise alone: a world where the Library of Alexandria never burned down. What the world looks like, today, when the value of a book exceeds that of a person. And it sure did not disappoint.
Ruthless and supremely powerful, the Great Library is now a presence in every major city, governing the flow of knowledge to the masses. Alchemy allows the Library to deliver the content of the greatest works of history instantly—but the personal ownership of books is expressly forbidden.
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…
There is just so much going on in this book. Jess is a young book smuggler who joins the latest class of librarians in Alexandria in hopes of one day working for the great library… and of being in the right place when his father needs him. He lives in a world where no one owns original books, only copies that exist through the codex – a bit like a kindle/internet thing – which exists through the work of Obscurists. The later are able to transfer contents of books from one place to another and keep the library running… but at what cost to real, physical books?
The author wastes no time explaining to us how the world is different: she shows us, right off the bat. There’s no long winded exposition, and the story flows naturally. I loved the fact that we slowly gleamed tidbits of how different history was as the novel goes on, without her saying anything explicitly. The world both feels foreign and yet completely likely… and relatable. Most of the countries we know exist, but England and Wales are at war, and Austria is no longer anywhere.
Jess himself is a great protagonist, as he’s still learning the truth about the library and his place within in. His perspective on things mimics ours: our disgust at the ink-lickers (My jaw was hanging in this very early scene) or oven his shock at the Burners are exactly how the audience would feel. But his views on the value of a book are a little convoluted, a little warped by the world he lives in. Are books really worth more than human lives?
Perfect world building in this novel. And you all know how much I love books about libraries! Plus, alternate histories? Completely my jam. Plus, no weird love triangles! What a fantastic read. Gosh, I loved it.
So I have to thank Berkley Publishing and Novel Reveries for organizing the giveaway and allowing me to read this fantastic book. I can’t wait for the sequel!