Book Review – Ink and Bone

Cover ImageTitle: Ink and Bone (The Great Library #1)

Author: Rachel Caine

Publisher: Allison & Busby Limited

Date: July 2015

Format: Paperback (410 pages)

Synopsis: Knowledge is power. Power corrupts.

In a world where the ancient Great Library of Alexandria was never destroyed, knowledge now rules the world: freely available, but strictly controlled. Owning private books is a crime.

Jess Brightwell is the son of a black market book smuggler, sent to the Library to compete for a position as a scholar . . . but even as he forms friendships and finds his true gifts, he begins to unearth the dark secrets of the greatest, most revered institution in the world.

Those who control the Great Library believe that knowledge is more valuable than any human life—and soon both heretics and books will burn…


I don’t usually start reading a series until all the books have been published, but I decided to make an exception for Ink and Bone because it sounded SO GOOD. Thankfully, I was definitely not disappointed.

The world building was great and I really enjoyed learning about all the different elements. In this world, Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press was never allowed to come to light and the Great Library of Alexandria and its daughter libraries (the Serapeums) control all knowledge via the Codex. Citizens are permitted to own blanks (like eBook readers), that enable them to view copies of books held in the Codex, but will be arrested if they’re caught with an original.

Jess, the central character, is a runner for his father who traffics in illegal original books. He earns a place as a student (Postulant) at the Great Library to compete to become a Scholar. While there, he becomes embroiled in the dangerous secret world behind the public face of the Library which threatens everything, and everyone, he cares about.

He encounters Burners who use Greek Fire to burn books in protest against the Great Library; Obscurists who use alchemy to control the Codex and other elements of society; Garda Soldiers and machines called automatons that defend the library with deadly force; ink-lickers who eat books as the ultimate way to possess them; and many other characters and concepts that work together to create an interesting and complex world for readers to explore.

The conflict between original books and blanks felt like a commentary on physical books vs. eBooks, which was interesting, although certainly not overbearing or obvious if you weren’t looking for it (I do like a good bit of literary analysis!).

In between chapters there were short sections called ‘Ephemera’ which provided extracts of private correspondence taken from the Codex and the Black Archive (where the library stores restricted knowledge). There were quite a few hidden details and surprises in those that helped to make the story even more compelling.

I really liked Jess and many of the other supporting characters (especially General Santi and Postulant Morgan), but my favourite character was definitely Scholar Christopher Wolfe. I hated him at first for the way he treated Jess and the other Postulants, but as more and more of his personal life and history were revealed I ended up really caring about him and sympathising with his struggles. He’s one of those characters who has a lot more depth than is initially apparent and I find I’m emotionally invested in what happens to him in the next book.

One other cool thing I wanted to mention is that the author included a ‘Soundtrack’ section at the back of the book with a list of the songs she listened to while she wrote it. I love this idea as it’s an insight into the author’s creative process and the kind of emotions she was working with. I was especially happy to see Hozier’s Take Me to Church on the list!

I’ll admit that I thought the first couple of chapters were a bit slow and I didn’t become fully immersed in the story until Jess became a Postulant, but once he did the plot really took off and I didn’t want to put the book down. I would definitely recommend it.

The sequel, Paper and Fire, is due out in July this year and I can’t wait to read it!

Overall Rating: Book Rating Picture  Book Rating Picture Book Rating Picture Book Rating Picture Book Rating Picture My bookworm rating system is explained here.

Other Works by this Author: Rachel Caine (who also writes under several other names) is the author of over 40 novels. You can find out more here.


 

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Future Library Project

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“A forest in Norway is growing. In 100 years it will become an anthology of books.”

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while, but I’m only now getting around to it. I love interesting and unique projects involving how the public interacts with and experiences books, and I think this one is absolutely wonderful.

The Future Library Project comes from the mind of Scottish artist Katie Paterson and is based in Norway. During the summer 1,000 trees were planted in Nordmarka, just outside of Oslo. Over the next 100 years one author per year will be asked to contribute an unpublished, unread manuscript to a collection which will be held in trust by the New Public Deichmanske Library in Oslo. In 2114, the trees planted this year will be cut down and turned into paper on which the complete collection of 100 manuscripts will be published and released to the public. They are a message in a bottle to future generations.

Man Booker prize-winning author Margaret Atwood has been given the honour of contributing the first manuscript. It will never be read in her lifetime, and it is unlikely that any of her current fans will live long enough to read it either, but that’s kind of the point. Atwood herself has said that she finds it “delicious” that she has the freedom to write whatever she wants without the worry of what her publisher, readers or critics will think about it. She is bound by contract not to reveal a word of what she has written to anyone. Only those alive in 2114 will ever know what story she has left to the world.

Paterson described her feelings about Atwood’s contribution beautifully: “I imagine her words growing through the trees, an unseen energy, activated and materialised, the tree rings becoming chapters in a book.” As the trees grow, so will the medium by which Atwood’s words, and those of 99 other authors, will eventually be revealed to readers of the future. Paterson has some more wonderful things to say about the project, which you can read here.

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With the unrelenting march of technology and the proliferation of e-books already in full swing, who can really say for certain that we will still have printed books 100 years from now? I sincerely hope we will, as the thought of my great-grandchildren never having the pleasure of holding a book in their hands, or being forced to squint at them through glass in a museum exhibit, makes me desperately sad. I have a feeling the printed page will still be with us, though. It’s too well loved to die out completely. Whatever happens in the future, at least we know one thing; the readers of 2114 will have 100 new stories to read, and they will come to them on paper.

I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a beautiful thing.

If you want to find out more about the project, which I really hope you do, then you can check out the links below.

Project Website

Project Video

Twitter

Facebook

Katie Paterson’s Website

Spine-benders vs. Spine-preservers: How do you treat your books?

Books can be truly beautiful objects. Having recently completed a postgraduate degree in publishing studies and learned a lot about the design and production process, I appreciate this all the more. Take the Penguin Classics hardback series, for example. Designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith, these linen covers have been stamped with beautiful, vibrant and colourful depictions of images representing the novels they enclose. They will make a wonderful edition to any book lover’s collection.

I want all of them. No, really. ALL of them. Even Pride and Prejudice. (Sorry, Austen fans, I’m a Brontë girl). © Penguin Books.

I want all of them. No, really. ALL of them. Even Pride and Prejudice. (Sorry, Austen fans, I’m a Brontë girl). © Penguin Books.

Paperbacks can also be beautifully designed, and many of them are. As a great example, you should check out the book trailer for the illustrated version of A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, which provides an awesome preview of the artwork in both the hardback and paperback editions.

In my experience, people who love reading paperbacks often fall into two distinct categories: the spine-benders and the spine-preservers. The former bend the spines of their books while reading them; the latter make sure to keep their book spines intact and looking like new. I have a confession to make. My name is Jo, and I’m a spine-bender. It seems to be an inherited trait. My mother is a spine-bender too, and, since I got my love of reading from her, it seems only natural that I would follow her manner of reading as well. This habit of mine has horrified some of my spine-preserver friends. Whenever I borrow a book from one of them, I make sure to leave the spine untouched. If I accidentally slip back into my spine-bending ways, which has happened once or twice, I buy them a brand new copy. After all, to us bibliophiles our books are precious objects, and, when borrowed, should be treated with respect. Or else.

So, if I love books so much, why would I intentionally damage them? One reason is I genuinely find them easier and more comfortable to read if I can open them out properly; but there is a more meaningful reason than that. When I first pick up a book in a bookshop, I see a world of possibilities. Will I love this book? Will I hate it? Will it have a profound effect on me, or will it leave no impression at all? When you pick up a book from my collection, you’ll probably be able to answer those questions. Like most book lovers, I can’t fit all of them onto one shelf, or even into one bookcase. Instead, a small selection of my favourites sit on a special shelf in my bedroom where I can see them every day.

My faithful robin friend watches over my collection. He’ll peck you if you try to steal one.

My faithful robin friend watches over my collection. He’ll peck you if you try to steal one.

With a glance, you can tell which ones I’ve read the most – their spines are seriously creased. If you pick one of them up, Book One of the Banned and the Banished series by James Clemens, for example, it will look a little worn, the pages a little ragged. You might even find a piece of paper or two tucked between the pages containing my thoughts and feelings about particular passages. Maybe some old index tab stickers leftover from my university days will draw your attention to a quote that I thought was important or meaningful. The book itself might help you learn still more about my reading habits by simply falling open at a particular page; one I’ve read so many times that the spine has completely cracked.

Deep breaths, spine-preservers, stay with me here.

If you’re looking for the book that means the most to me, you won’t find it on this shelf. It has lived in the top drawer of my bedside table ever since I first got it in 1996, at the tender age of nine. As you can see, it’s pretty beaten up. It looks like it’s been read dozens of times and travelled with me to many places. It has. When I look at its curling pages, its creased cover and worn spine, I don’t see a book which has been poorly cared for. I see a book that has a history, a unique character that sets it apart from the untouched copies in a bookshop. I see the times it has given me comfort. Made me laugh. Made me think. Made me cry. Even just holding it makes me feel better.

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My eighteen-year long love affair with Star Trek and why it means so much to me is a whole other story. I might write about that another time.

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I have nothing against the development of e-books. I understand their advantages and that they can lead more people to a love of reading. To me, though, they’re nothing more than data files. Other than the words they contain, they have no character. They remain the same no matter how many times they are read. They can’t absorb the ink of an author’s autograph or a message from a loved one. You can’t hold them in your hands, only the device they have been downloaded onto.  And, the most important drawback for me – you can’t put them on a bookshelf. These limitations don’t matter to everyone, but they matter to me.

That being said, if a book I really wanted to read was only available in digital format, I would still read it. I wouldn’t deny myself that book just because it was in a format other than paper and ink. I don’t agree with the idea I’ve heard flaunted by some literature snobs that those who only read e-books are not ‘real readers’. That’s nonsense. Of course they are. Whether for convenience, financial reasons or the attraction of interactive features, for some people e-books are their preferred way of reading. For me, though, the way I interact with a book is inextricably linked to the format in which I read it. In my case, that means paper and ink all the way. I don’t mind if that means my suitcase is a little heavier when I travel. I don’t care that the book costs a bit more or that it might take longer to get to me. Those extra little hassles are more than worth it for the reading experience I love.

I’m actually dealing with one of those hassles right now. The release date for a Star Trek novel I’ve been waiting fifteen months for has been pushed back by two weeks. The release date for the paperback, that is. The e-book is readily available now. I could have it in about five minutes via my Google Books app for £4.99 if I was so inclined. I’m not. Sure, it’s frustrating to have to wait for longer, but I’ve already waited fifteen months, so what’s another few weeks if I know I’ll enjoy the reading experience more if I just have a little patience?

In the Star Trek universe, set in the 23rd and 24th centuries, for all their advanced technology, the characters are often seen reading from physical books as well as from data pads. The two exist side by side. That’s how it should be. Unfortunately, publishing in both print and digital formats isn’t always financially feasible these days.

Captain Picard often had his nose in a traditional book, particularly the works of Shakespeare. © Paramount Studios.

Captain Picard often had his nose in a traditional book, particularly the works of Shakespeare. © Paramount Studios.

Some might say that I haven’t given e-books a fair chance. That may be true. I’ve never read an e-book from start to finish. I got about halfway through one of the free downloads that came with my Google Books app before I gave up. I just wasn’t enjoying the reading experience; which in turn meant I wasn’t enjoying the book as much either. The app came already installed on my smart phone, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have bothered with it. I borrowed my uncle’s Kindle last year and tried to read a book on that. Same problem. E-books just aren’t my thing.

Does this mean that I’m a hopelessly out of touch fuddy-duddy who has no business going after a job in the increasingly digitised world of publishing? No, I don’t think so. The field I’m most interested in is academic/educational publishing, and I’m really enthusiastic about new forms of scholarly publication like open access journals. I may not like e-books when I’m reading for pleasure, but online resources and digitally published research articles were invaluable to me while I was at university. I would love to be involved with academic publishing and help to promote information sharing in the digital age. Similarly, if I was able to work with a fiction publisher, I would be just as dedicated to producing high quality e-books as I would be to physical books. Just because I’m personally not keen on reading them, doesn’t mean I have anything against others doing so, especially if access to e-books encourages people to read more.

Whichever branch of the publishing industry I find myself in, I will gladly go to work each day ready to enthusiastically launch myself into any project I’m asked to. But when I go home, and curl up by the fire in an old armchair in the house I hope to have one day, it’ll be with a physical book. Be it one of my old creased companions, or a new friend waiting to be etched with my memories.