Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine

Ink and Bone (The Great Library #1) by Rachel Caine
Published in 2015 by NAL.

Links: Goodreads.

Source: publisher via NetGalley. Thank you NAL for providing me with an e-copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Genre: YA historical fantasy.

My rating:

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…


Well! This one was a nice surprise! You can never be sure what you’ll get when you start a new series – even though Ink and Bone got some highly favourable reviews from blogs I follow – so I was very happy that it turned out so well.

Ink and Bone is an imaginative historical fantasy set in a world where the Library (of Alexandria) rules in the sense that it controls all knowledge and learning. The idea of a world where books aren’t readily available gives every bookworm the creeps, I’d bet, but this was done really well – the knowledge is there, just distributed and parcelled out according to who you are. The world is really complex – and I liked the addition of steampunk elements like the scary automatons the Library employs to protect its books and premises.

The story follows Jess, the son of a London book smuggler, who is on his way to become a scholar at the Library. His training is to be completed in Alexandria, where he meets other hopeful young people. I love every kind of school story involving magic (hello, Harry Potter), so I was excited, at first, when I figured out where Jess would be going, and disappointed when his training didn’t involve much magic at all.

But the complex relationships between the students, their mentor, and the political intrigues soon overshadowed any disappointment I might have felt. The writing itself (or maybe the pacing?) might have been somewhat stilted in the first third of the book but the story picked up when I came to the halfway mark – and I read the last 40% of the book in one sitting, which is unusual for me these days.

As more and more dirty workings inside the Library were uncovered, I was pulled into the story and found myself rooting for Jess and his friends. The fact that the seemingly pointless academic tests they had been subjected to in Alexandria were replaced by some very real field experience didn’t hurt the pacing, either. I loved the fact that Jess and his fellow characters were complex and not at all morally white – I never like perfect characters and Caine wrote some really great gray souls.

Overall, I’m very excited to get to Paper and Fire, which has been published in July this year. I haven’t read any of Caine’s books previously, though she seems to have published quite a few (including some vampire UF!). I’ll have to check those out as well.


Have you read Ink and Bone? What did you think?

Can you imagine a society where owning original books is punishable by death? O_o

I’d love to hear from you! :)

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  • WHY haven’t I read this yet? It’s about books AND libraries! Honestly, shame on me. I also love the sound of a cast of characters who are morally complex. That’s all too often lacking in YA fantasy, in my opinion.

    I can imagine living in a society where owning books is punishable by death, but in a way that gives me chills and makes me very thankful for the circumstances of my birth (late 20th century Canada). Book banning, book burning, and other related destruction of cultural artifacts is scary enough as is. The idea of being put to death for owning one of those things? Actual nightmare.

    • Right, a book about libraries would be especially interesting to you! :) I’d love to hear your thoughts about it if you manage to get your hands on it. And it really barely reads like a YA, the story has a very adult feel.

      And yeah, I often wonder what my life would be like if I was born in a different time/place. I’d probably be commited to an asylum or burned at the stake. Ugh.

  • Loved this book! I’m practically wriggling in my seat with excitement that you enjoyed it so much too!

    • :) Yeah, it’s a great book! I can’t wait to get my hands on the sequel (though if I remember correctly, you didn’t enjoy it as much?).

      • No, I didn’t enjoy it as much as the first one. Still, it was to be expected, in a way…I mean, considering Ink and Bone completely and utterly swept me off my feet :) Paper and Fire was still a solid sequel overall though.

        • Oh, that’s good, then. I was afraid of a second book flop, it happens so often…

  • Greg Hill

    I’ve been curious about these because Great Library. The whole idea of such a place appeals to me so of course these caught my eye. Something about it has held me off though- I don’t know. Maybe I thought it was more alt history/ historical based, which doesn’t necessarily bother me (sometimes it does) but I didn’t know if it would work here? The sound of the secrets though and the morally gray characters- that has me interested. I might have to get this after all.

    • I know, libraries are great, especially if they’re a bit magical like this one. I wished to see more of the actual Library here – the stacks, the archives – because the Library is also an institution, a powerful organization.

      And yeah, the characters are really well-formed. I like it when the lines of good and evil blur a bit.

  • Lisa (@TenaciousReader)

    So glad to see you read and loved this one! It was a real surprise find for me when I picked it up last year.

    • Yep, it was really great! :) I was surprised, too, you really never know when you start a new fantasy series. But this came highly recommended and I agree with the reviewers!

  • You’re right^^ the reviews for this one have been largely positive – I don’t remember reading a single bad one! I was gifted this one actually but I haven’t gotten around to it yet. Thanks for reminding me that I need to fix that ASAP :D GREAT review!!

    • It’s rare that most of the people I follow agree on a book – so when they all love it, I tend to listen. :) And if you have a copy already, give it a try, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

  • I got this out from the library a few months back and I never got around to reading it and now after seeing your review I’m chiding myself for returning it unread. This book sounds excellent – books, libraries, a school of magic, complex relationships and politics, wow!

    • Well, if you can get it from your library, that’s extra great – give it a try! :) And yeah, it has all the makings of a wonderful story. I can’t wait to read the sequel!

  • This has been on my shelf forever (and this review has been open in my browser for a good few days waiting for me to read it) and I still can’t figure out why I haven’t read it. I’m like Danya, I love books that are about books and libraries. I think my problem is I’ve read The Invisible Library recently and I’m worried I’ll end up comparing these two books, which is ridiculous. Your review has successfully gotten me interested in this book again.

    I have to say I am excited about complex characters and it’s good to know slower pacing at the start may slow me down. I can prepare myself for these things then. I just like the idea of all knowledge being controlled in that it’s insane but a really intriguing concept. I mean, I’m glad we have so much freedom to learn things now. You can see how the freedom of information can severely hinder legal cases and such but to stop it would be equally ridiculous. I think now, the fact information is so accessible is great but I wish the information out there was more accurate. People read things and accept them to be true but the media shows things how they want people to perceive it and it’s accepted as fact and that frustrates the hell out of me. I wish more people would think about the information being presented to them and the source of it to be able determine how accurate it actually is.

    I cannot wait to read it (once I’ve finished my binge read of the Kate Daniels series).

    • Ah, that’s a fantastic point. We have the feeling that all the information out there is accurate, but even with big newspapers, for example, it’s a good idea to read at least two sides of an issue before commiting to an opinion. I’m always surprised how people are able to take information for granted if they get it off Facebook or Twitter or something.

      I think schools should teach us to read critically, but if you think about it, it’s easier to have people slightly under-educated if they’ll swallow information as-is instead of wondering what the hell is going on behind the scenes (this is turning political now, I’d better stop).

      Anyway, if you have a copy alredy, do give it a try. I have no idea how it compares to The Invisible Library – was that good, by the way? Have you reviewed it yet? If yes, I’ve missed it and will have to check out your review. I’ve been eyeing it for a while but I don’t really know what it’s about.

      • Exactly, I do feel like reading critically is such an important skill that people get taught at school and then completely fail to employ in real life for some reason. I completely agree about facebook and twitter, though, it’s like as soon as it’s on the internet it must be true even though there are no references to show where the info came from!

        And I actually haven’t and I wish I knew why. I read it and it’s sequel right after each other and I have no clue why I haven’t reviewed them. I may try and dredge up my memories and write some quick reviews because I’ve seen some people say negative things that I didn’t really get. I will say this, though, there are dragons! I mean dragons! It’s a library that is held outside of time and attempts to keep knowledge of all hundreds of alternate worlds in one place. It’s very unique but begins a bit slow. Give it a go if you can get your hands on the first book either from the library or cheap online.