Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine. ★★★★
Ink and Bone is an entertaining YA alternate history novel with some interesting world building.
In the world of Ink and Bone a single organization, the Library, controls all knowledge. Through alchemy the Library delivers books directly to “blanks” (strangely similar to ereaders…) but the personal ownership of books is forbidden.
Jess Brightwell is a sixteen year old boy who’s family are book smugglers. They run books for those who can afford to pay for the luxury, risking the wrath of the Library in the process. Jess loves books but isn’t cut out for the life of a smuggler, so his father decides to send him inside the Library itself, to work as a spy. Thus Jess becomes one of thirty students sent to Alexandria, the headquarters of the Library, to compete for six positions. As Jess finds out more and more about the Library and it’s practices, he begins to question the goliath organization…
Ink and Bone combines a lot of common YA elements – the evil and all powerful organization, the special school, the competition among teenagers – into an inventive new mix. In a large part, it helps that the specific issue Ink and Bone addresses, control of knowledge, is not at the forefront of any of the other YA mega hits. I’ve seen it compared to The Book Thief, probably for this reason, but I would disagree given the wide differences in tone and story.
The world Caine has created has clear parallels to the debate over print versus ebook. In a world of “digital” only copies, it’s easy for the Library to have almost total control over knowledge. They’re linked into every device and can read and erase anything that they disagree with.
The uniqueness of the world Caine’s created also makes it stand out from the typical crowd. I’m not exactly sure what genre classification would be correct. It takes place in 2025, is clearly alternative history, has a low level of magic (i.e. “alchemy” in the book’s terms), and elements such as automatons that remind me of steampunk. Whatever the classification, the result was fun and original.
As a protagonist, Jess doesn’t inspire much feeling in me. I don’t love him, I don’t hate him. I find him a decent if unexceptional protagonist. However, Ink and Bone did a good job of creating a strong cast of secondary characters. Of these, my favorite was Christopher Wolfe, the intimidating mentor in Alexandria. Kudos also go to Khalila, a Muslim girl genius.
Like all YA novels, Ink and Bone contains the almost mandatory romantic drama. While I may have rolled my eyes at a few parts, it actually wasn’t that bad and never overwhelmed the entire plot.
I’d recommend this to people who like books about books or who are looking for an entertaining YA novel. Possibly it would appeal well to fans of Brandon Sanderson’s Steelheart.