Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Ink and Bone

Ink and Bone

Rachel Caine
Fiction  Series
For ages 14 and up
Penguin, 2015   ISBN: 978-0451472397

Long ago, in ancient times, the Egyptians decided that certain texts from their great library in Alexandria would be copied and sent to Serapeum, or “daughter libraries.” These Serapeum would make it possible for people from all walks of life to have access to knowledge.

Some time later, thanks to the use of alchemy, the Great Library became able to send copies of works from its archives to people as well as to the Serapeum. These editions of books were “mirrored” copies of the originals. Though this gave the public even wider access to books, personal ownership of real books was now forbidden. This system allowed the Great Library to control the flow of knowledge and the “persistent disease of progress.”

In 1455 a man called Johannes Gutenberg invented a machine that would allow books to be copied by mechanical means. This would have allowed people to have their own books, any books they wanted, rather than having to rely on getting mirrored copies of books sanctioned by the Great Library. Guttenberg felt that it was time for the old system to change, and for his heresy he and his dangerous ideas were quietly removed from the scene.

To the present day the only people who own real books with ink writing on them are smugglers and their clients, collectors who love to own rare books that it is illegal to own. Jess Brightwell belongs to a family whose members are very successful smugglers. When he was little, Jess served as a runner, carrying illegal books on his person to clients, and risking his life every time he did so. The servants of the Great Library, the Garda and their automata, take a dim view of smugglers and will execute anyone who has an illegal book in their possession.

Though he is the elder of twin sons, Jess has neither the stomach nor the inclination to run the family business, and so his father decides to pay for Jess to have a placement in the Library. Mr. Brightwell is not doing this out of the goodness of his heart. He is not a good or a kind man. His plan is to have Jess serve as a spy for the family business. The young man will be perfectly placed to warn the Brightwells about raids, High Garda strategies, and more.

Though the Library and its servants frighten Jess, he cannot help feeling excited about the prospect of having access to so many books. He has always loved books and has read many, both legal copies and illegal volumes. Jess takes the test set by the library officials, does well enough to be accepted to serve the Great Library, and soon he is traveling across Europe and North African to get to Alexandria, where the Great Library is still located.

Once he gets to Alexandria, Jess’s training begins and he soon learns that every day is going to be a test. There are only six places open at the Great Library and most of the postulants will be going home empty-handed. Jess is determined that he will not be one of the postulants who fails, for if he does he will not be taken back by his family. He will be penniless and homeless.

Jess is not in Alexandria long before he hears from his father who has a job for him. There is a book Jess needs to ‘acquire’ for the family and refusing to do so is not an option. It would appear that his father, just as he did when Jess was little, is quite happy to risk his son’s life for the sake of the family business.

This remarkable book takes us into a world where access to books is controlled by an organization that is powerful and dangerous. What Jess and his fellow postulants don’t realize is that the Great Library controls more than books. It controls people as well, and it manipulates them in egregious ways to consolidate its power. After reading just a page or two, readers will be pulled into this story, which will only let them go when the last word is read.