Book Review: ‘Paper and Fire’ (2016)

The short: 4/5 ✦. A worthy, if mildly flawed, installment in The Great Library series.

The long:

Stop me if you’ve heard this before:

Young teen discovers the government is not as it says; in fact, it is downright evil. Young teen makes friends. Together, they create and/or join a rebellion to take down said evil government.

Sounds familiar, right?

If this is where the Ink and Bone series is headed, as indicated by this book, Paper and Fire, what makes it stand out from the masses?

Well, for one, the government isn’t quite so evil, and Jess and his friends don’t necessarily want to take it down. They realize the societal and political ramifications that would have on the world, and as awful as the Great Library is, it needs to be reformed, not removed.

Plus, there’s the books to think of.

I like that Jess, even after all the terrible things done to him, still retains respect for books. It’s still horrible to see them being abused, eaten (!!!), and burned. And even members of the Great Library feel the same. They’ve gotten too used to power, to be sure, but beyond recognizing books as the threat they are, it is accepted that they are to be treasured.

This pleases my little bibliophilic heart.

I mentioned in my last review how easy it is for authors to assume that a book about books is an automatic win for readers and that really, readers love stories. Good ones, preferably. But again, Caine manages to keep on the other side of that line and makes sure that human life (and thus the ability to keep telling stories and write books) has higher preference. Jess’s top priority in the first half of Paper and Fire is to rescue Thomas, no matter the personal cost. And the stakes are very high.

The settings in this book are amazing — all of Alexandria is and also Rome and even the little bit of London we get to see. The characters are still easily the best part, and there is a more room for them to develop in this book, though I don’t at all buy the romance between Jess and Morgan. To be honest, I totally forgot that that existed until it was mentioned. (And I had such high hopes for you, book!)

Also, I clearly need to pay more attention to the publishing page, because I had no idea this was the second in a trilogy, and so it ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. Not a horrible one, luckily. This book very much has a defined beginning, middle, and end and can be enjoyed as a standalone (barring the fact that it is indeed a continuation of the previous book, but you know what I mean).

One thing I disliked was the fact that Jess has a tendency for keeping secrets, not only from his friends but also from us, the reader. Unless the book jumps around in multiple perspectives (which Paper and Fire does not), it’s very annoying to keep these things from readers in the name of ~mystery~. It’s honestly a tired tactic, and unless you’re writing a legit mystery, Agatha-Christie style, it just comes off as a little cheap, a way to keep us reading. It work, most of the time, but only as far as natural curiosity will go, and then it just becomes a GET ON WITH IT impatience, losing interest in the real story.

But I digress.

Paper and Fire is a worthy successor to Ink and Bone, and I’m quite excited for the next installment. I don’t expect the series’s multiple issues to be resolved, but there’s a lot of pleasure to be found in Caine’s easy prose, the likable characters, and the wonderful storytelling. Here’s looking at you, Ash and Quill!

Header image: Paper and Fire by Rachel Caine, published July 5th 2016 by New American Library

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