The short: 4/5 ✦. An incredibly fascinating novel with amazing characters and a wonderfully unique plot about the power of books and the danger of knowledge.
Ahh, I liked this book.
The last few books I’ve read haven’t exactly been stellar (in my opinion, of course), and Ink and Bone was wholly satisfying. Perhaps not fantastic, but very satisfying.
First of all, it’s about books. So that’s the half the battle of winning me over right there! I’m one of those book nerds who’s still distraught that the Great Library of Alexandria was destroyed and so much knowledge was lost in one fiery swoop. Ink and Bone operates on the AU premise of, what if it wasn’t destroyed? And instead of benefiting the world, the Great Library ended up controlling it?
As the book’s tagline says: Knowledge is power.
I am a firm believer of that, as well as that education is the key to progress in all areas of life. Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to learning about the world and cultures and peoples and having imagination.
I do admit that this novel’s rather unique idea isn’t entirely without flaws, especially in terms of technological advancement. The year is supposedly 2025, and there’s still steam trains? Silk and linen clothes? I get that the Library silences innovators, but some of these modern conveniences don’t seem to be related to public knowledge, like radio, TV, or Internet would be (which are understandably absent). Caine also tries to start off the book with a bang, with the main character, Jess, as a young child smuggling books for his family in a rapid sequence that kinda makes no sense. Once we get to sixteen-year-old Jess, it slows down to a more manageable pace for expository reasons, and the world is better explained and explored. Parts are still a little confusing, but by then, you’re just caught up in the plot and the characters.
And the characters are my favorite.
I complained about Ready Player One seemingly operating with a diversity checklist, and I suppose the same argument could be made for Ink and Bone, but it’s so much more well done. There’s LGBT characters, religious characters, characters from all over the world, and they exist in a matter-of-fact, accepted, normal way – despite the lack of progress in this world! And though the secondary characters are less developed than Jess, they only brush against stereotypes and are otherwise well-rounded with strengths and weaknesses that make them so engaging. (Thomas FTW!)
There’s an assumption made when writing a book about books in that the author automatically assumes you’re going to like it because BOOKS. And that isn’t always the case. Readers love books, of course, but more specifically, they love stories. Fortunately, Ink and Bone doesn’t take the assumption too far, though it definitely plays on that love with the presence of ink-lickers – people who eat books – and Burners, who destroy books as political protest. Like Jess, I found myself gasping in horror at the idea of original books being destroyed, especially since there’s no copies, no way to preserve their content. As you can see, it’s terribly easy to buy into the idea of the Library being benevolent, as they preserve originals and share copies via alchemic (digital) “blanks” (ereaders) to the public. The issue lies in that no one except the Library is allowed to own actual books and they control what content is shared. And that’s where the power is, and where the strength of this novel lies. It makes a horrible amount of sense in a twisted way.
Basically, after reading this book, you may want to go hug your bookshelf in sheer thankfulness.
Header image: Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine, published July 7th 2015 by NAL.