I use The Book Thief here as a stand-in historical-minded YA But if you loved it or Harry Potter or The Hunger Games, then the first book of Rachel Caine’s Great Library series is for you.
Ink & Bone introduces us to Jess, a 16-year-old boy living in London in the year 2031. But this is not the London you know. This London has robot lions guarding its Library that spring to life and eat people at the first sign of trouble. This London has kids running through the streets to deliver first-edition copies of books–kind of like stealing books (looking at your, Liesel) and like in that German war-zone, in Ink & Bone, these kids could be caught and served capital punishment. Because this is what London could be like if the Great Library of Alexandria never burned down.
Like The Book Thief, this is a novel for people who really, really appreciate not only books but the idea of books, the essence of books. Ink & Bone is a novel for people who completely understand, with every inch of them, why books are worth dying for.
“I Have Hated Words and I Have Loved Them”
One thing Ink & Bone does really well is it makes you hate the Library. In this version of the world, the Library in your town or city is a satellite branch of the real Library, the one in Alexandria. In your house, you don’t have books. You have what amounts to an e-reader. Every time you want to read, say, Archemedes’s On Sphere-Making, you would have to request it from the library. Not a big deal, except that the only copy of On Sphere-Making was stolen. Not a big deal, except that if you wanted something like Dante’s blasphemous Divine Comedy, or Gutenberg’s plans to make a printing press, the Library could censor your search. And, probably, kill you.
I think this is such a good book because it plays on your emotions. Libraries are inherently good. Benjamin Franklin’s idea of a free public library where rich or poor or man or woman could come in and read changed literally everything about America. The Book Thief tells us, unnecessarily, that books and the freedom to read them are what make life worth living.
Except that’s what the Library is trying to take away in Ink & Bone. That freedom to read whatever the hell you want. I guarantee the Library would censor fanfiction. And Fifty Shades of Grey.
So…maybe not all bad.
“It kills me sometimes, how people die.”
But if an all-knowing library doesn’t pique your interest, just wait until you hear about the characters. Why did you care about Liesel and Rudy? Why did you care? Because, deep down, you know that the book being narrated by Death itself cannot have a happy ending. Because, deep down, you know that people die.
It happens in The Book Thief and it happens in Ink & Bone. This is not unnecessary gore. This is war, the holiest of wars, where even children are fair game. It’s some of the best action I’ve ever read, and by the end you understand why you care so much when people die in books. It gives everything higher stakes. It makes it feel like this might be a war worth fighting.
And the even better news is that this is only the first of a series! And the second book comes out in July. And the paperback of Ink & Bone comes out in April.