(Image from Barnes & Noble)
"You have ink in your blood, boy, and no help for it. Books will never be just a business to you" (26).
Imagine if the great library at Alexandria had never been destroyed. If it, in fact, stood supreme, the mother of a host of daughter libraries around the world. Imagine if the Great Library controlled the written word, using alchemy to copy books and distribute them—temporarily and at its own discretion—to citizens' mobile devices. Consider a world in which owning an original, printed book is illegal, punishable by imprisonment, even death. Where books are traded on the black market because, in spite of it all, "books were a precious commodity ... [smugglers] catered to a basic human hunger" (137).
This is the exact situation of those living in 2025 in the alternative world Rachel Caine introduces in her magical YA novel, Ink and Bone. The story focuses on Jess Brightwell, a 16-year-old Londoner, who works as a "runner" for his family's black-market books business. It's a dangerous job, one for which Jess has little love. He hungers for the books, themselves, for the knowledge that's so freely available inside them. Because he's sensitive where he needs to be cunning, Jess is tasked with becoming his father's spy at the Great Library. Only a small number of postulants are accepted for Library service each year and the selection process is ruthless. Although Jess is accepted into the program, his most demanding assignments are yet to come. Under the tutelage of a merciless instructor, Jess isn't sure he will survive long enough to become a Scholar, let alone learn all the secrets the Great Library holds within its hallowed walls.
The longer Jess survives at the Great Library, the more dangerous his position becomes. He's wary of his classmates, all of whom hide their own secrets. The spilling of his own secret—that he's the son of a wanted criminal—could be the end of everything for Jess. Things get even more dicey when he discovers a remarkable invention, one that would undermine the Library's power, allowing average citizens the kind of freedom hated and feared by those who control the Library and thus, the world. With a target on his back, Jess must confront conflicting loyalties to figure out what's worth fighting for in a corrupt time when things have gone oh, so horrifyingly wrong ...
Any book lover will appreciate the conflict central to Ink and Bone's plot. They will understand Jess' motivation, his desire to protect the written word from those who would abuse it. This sets up the reader for a tense, action-packed ride, filled with magic, adventure, and suspense. It's easy to root for smart, sympathetic Jess in his quest to fight oppression, bringing the freedom of knowledge to the masses. While the rules of Caine's fantasy world get confusing at times, overall, it's a complex, well-built setting that makes an intriguing backdrop for this imaginative and compelling tale. If you dig exciting, adrenaline-fueled stories with unique elements, definitely give Ink and Bone a go. You won't be disappointed.
(Readalikes: Hm, I can't think of anything. Can you?)
If this were a movie, it would be rated:
for language (no F-bombs), violence, blood/gore, and sexual innuendo
To the FTC, with love: I bought a copy of Ink and Bone from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger. Ha ha.