In an exhilarating new series, New York Times bestselling author Rachel Caine rewrites history, creating a dangerous world where the Great Library of Alexandria has survived the test of time.…
Ruthless and supremely powerful, the Great Library is now a presence in every major city, governing the flow of knowledge to the masses. Alchemy allows the Library to deliver the content of the greatest works of history instantly—but the personal ownership of books is expressly forbidden.
Jess Brightwell believes in the value of the Library, but the majority of his knowledge comes from illegal books obtained by his family. Jess has been sent to be his family’s spy, but his loyalties are tested in the final months of his training to enter the Library’s service.
When his friend inadvertently commits heresy by creating a device that could change the world, Jess discovers that those who control the Great Library believe knowledge is more valuable than any human life—and soon both heretics and books will burn.…
About the Author
Rachel Caine is the New York Times, USA Today, and international bestselling author of more than forty novels, including Prince of Shadows, the Weather Warden series, the Outcast Season series, the Revivalist series, and the Morganville Vampires series.
Read an Excerpt
ALSO BY RACHEL CAINE
Text of a historical letter, the original of which is kept under glass in the Great Library of Alexandria and listed under the Core Collection.
From the scribe of Pharaoh Ptolemy II, to his most excellent servant Callimachus, Archivist of the Great Library, in the third year of his glorious reign:
Great King Ptolemy, Light of Egypt, has considered your counsel to make copies of the most important works of the Library to be housed in daughter libraries, hereinafter to be called Serapeum, for the access and enrichment of all men. Pharaoh, who is as wide as the Nile in his divine wisdom, agrees to this proposal.
You shall therefore survey the contents of the Great Library and create for him a listing of all works housed therein, which shall serve ever after as the accounting of this great storehouse of the knowledge of the world.
You shall then consult with the Library’s Editor to make exact copies of items suitable for the use of the Serapeum, being mindful of the need to provide works that elevate and educate.
By these means shall we further preserve the knowledge we have gathered and hold in trust from ancient times, to be preserved for the future of all who come after.
Pharaoh has also heard your words regarding the unaccompanied admission of females to this sacred space of the Serapeum, and in his divine wisdom refuses this argument, for women must be instructed by the more developed minds of men to ensure they do not wrongly interpret the riches that the Library offers. For a perversion of knowledge is surely worse than a lack of it.
Pharaoh and the gods will grant eternal favor and protection to this great work.
A handwritten annotation to the letter, in the hand of Callimachus.
His divine wisdom can kiss my common arse. We blind and hobble half of the world through such ignorance, and I will not have it. Women shall study at the Serapeum as they might be inclined. Let him execute me if he wishes, but I have seen enough of minds wasted in this world. I have a daughter.
My daughter will learn.
Six years ago
“Hold still and stop fighting me,” his father said, and slapped him hard enough to leave a mark. Jess went quiet. He hadn’t meant to fidget, but the pouch strapped to his bare chest felt hot and dangerous, like some animal that might turn on him and bite.
He looked up at his father as the man snugged the harness bindings closer. When it was suffocatingly tight, he tossed Jess a filthy old shirt.
He’d done this often enough that, while it was still frightening, it was no longer strange . . . But there was a sense that this time, this run, was different. Why, Jess didn’t know, except that his father seemed more tense than usual.
So he asked, hesitantly, “Da—anything I should know?”
“Doesn’t matter a damn what you know. Lose that book to the Garda and you’ll hang, if you’re lucky. If I don’t get you first. You know the route. Run it flat and fair, and you’d best damn well die before you give it to any but the one that’s paid for it.”
Callum Brightwell cast a critical eye over his son’s thin form, then yanked a vest from a chest and shoved it over Jess’s shirt. There was only one button on it. Jess fastened it. It hung two sizes loose, which was the point: better concealment for the harness.
Brightwell nodded and stepped back. He was a smallish man, runted by poor nutrition in his youth, but now he was dressed well in a bright yellow silk waistcoat and trousers of fine cotton. “You look the part,” he told Jess. “Remember to stay with the cutters. Don’t split off on your own unless the Garda spring a trap. Even then, keep to the route.”
Jess ducked his head in acknowledgment. He knew the route. He knew all the routes, all the runs that his family held against competitors throughout the vast city of London. He’d trained since he was old enough to walk, clasping the hand of his father and then later toddling behind his older brother, Liam.
Liam was dead now. He’d been seventeen when he was taken in by the London Garda for running books. His family hadn’t stepped up to identify him. He’d kept the family’s code. He’d kept his silence to the end.
And as a reward for that loyalty, the city of London had tossed him in an unmarked pit, along with other unclaimed criminals. Liam had been seventeen, and Jess was now ten, and he had no idea how he was supposed to live up to that legend.
“Da—” He was risking another slap, or worse, but he took a deep breath and said, “Today’s a bad day to be running—you said that yourself. The Garda are out in force. Why can’t this wait?”
Callum Brightwell looked above his son’s head, at the sturdy wall of the warehouse. This was one of many bolt-holes he kept for rarities and, of course, the rarest treasures of all, books. Real, original books, shelves and crates full. He was a wealthy, clever man, but in that moment, with the light coming harsh on him through a high, mullioned window, he looked twice his age.
“Just get on with it. I’ll expect you back in two hours. Don’t be late or I’ll get the cane.” His father suddenly scowled. “If you see your feckless brother, tell him I’m waiting, and there’ll be hell to pay. He’s on the cutters today.”
Even though Jess and Brendan had been born as identical twins, they couldn’t have been more different inside. Jess was bold; Brendan tended to be shy. Jess was self-contained; Brendan was prone to explosions of violence.
Jess was a runner. Brendan . . . was a schemer.
Jess knew exactly where Brendan was; he could see him, hiding up on the thin second-floor catwalk, clinging to an old ladder that ran toward the roof. Brendan had been watching, as was his habit. He liked to be up high, away from where Da could lay hands on him, and he liked to avoid risking his hide as a runner when he could.
“If I see him, I’ll tell him,” he said, and stared hard right at his brother. Get down here, you little shite. Brendan responded by silently swarming up the ladder into the darkness. He’d already worked out that Jess was the one running the prize today. Knowing Brendan, he’d decided that his skin was worth more than just acting as his brother’s decoy.
“Well?” his father said sharply. “What are you waiting for, a kiss from your mam? Get on with you!”
He pushed Jess toward the massive reinforced warehouse door, which was opened by three silent men; Jess didn’t know them, tried not to learn their names because they died quick in that line of work. He paused and took deep, quick breaths. Getting ready. He spotted the mob of cutters ranged about in the alley and on the street beyond; kids, his age or younger, all ready to run their routes.
They were waiting only for him.
He let out a wild war cry and set off at a sprint. The other cutters took it up as a cheer, thin arms and legs pumping, darting between the startled pedestrians in their workaday clothes. Several lunged out into the street, which was a hazardous adventure; they darted between steam carriages and ignored the angry shouts of the drivers. The cutters re-formed into a mob of twelve or so kids at the next corner, and Jess stuck with them for the first part of the route. It was safer in numbers, as the streets got cleaner and the passersby better dressed. Four long blocks of homes and businesses, then a right turn at a tavern already doing good business even so early in the morning; smooth running, until a hard-looking man darted out from a greengrocer and yanked a girl out of his crew by her long hair. She’d made herself too easy to grab; most of the girls knotted up their hair on top of their heads or shaved it short.
Jess had to fight his urge to slow down and help her.
The girl screamed and fought, but the big man wrestled her to the curb and backhanded her into a heap. “Damn cutters!” he yelled. “Garda! Garda! Runners on the loose!”
That tore it. Always some busybody do-gooder trying to save the day, was what Jess’s father always said; that’s why he sent the cutters in packs, most with worthless decoy trash in their harnesses. The Garda rarely scored, but when they did, they paid any informants off rich who put them on the trail of the smugglers.
Citizens turned, eyes avid with the idea of free cash, and Jess tucked his chin down and ran.
The cutters wheeled and broke up and re-formed like a flock of birds. Some carried knives and used them when grabbed; it was chancy to do that, very chancy, because if a kid was caught with a bloody knife it’d be the rope for sure, whether it was a flesh wound on the man he’d cut or a mortal blow. The boy to Jess’s left—too big to be running, though he was probably younger than Jess’s age—veered straight into a wall of oncoming drunks. He had a knife and slashed with it; Jess saw a bright ribbon of blood arcing in the air and then didn’t look back.
He couldn’t. He had to concentrate on escape.
His route split at the next corner; they’d all break up now, running separately to draw the Garda’s numbers thin . . . or at least, that was the plan.
What happened was that when Jess reached the corner, there were Garda bunched up on his route. They spotted him and let out a fierce, angry yell.
He made an instant decision he knew his da would beat him black for making: he left the route.
He almost banged into two other cutters as he veered right; they gave him identically startled looks, and one yelled at him to get off their patch. He ignored her, and despite the ache growing in his chest, the smothering drag of the book, he put on a new burst of speed and outpaced them both.
He heard a cry behind him and glanced back to see that the Garda were pouring out from alleyways. Bloody lobsters in their grimy red coats. They swiftly caught the others.
Not Jess, though. Not yet.
He dodged down a dark, twisting passage too narrow to even be named an alley; even as small as he was, his shoulders brushed brick on both sides. A rusted nail caught at his shirt and ripped the sleeve, and for a heart-stopping second he thought the leather of his harness might catch, but he kept moving. Couldn’t go fast now, because of the inky darkness in the shadows, but his nose told him it was a popular dumping ground for rotting fish. The bricks felt slimy and cold under his fingers.
He could still hear the Garda hue and cry behind him, but they couldn’t fit their thick bodies through this warren, and for a moment, as he spotted a thin slice of light at the end, he wasn’t so sure he could fit either. It narrowed and narrowed, until he had to turn sideways and edge along with the rough brick tearing at his clothes. The book wedged him in as tight as a cork in a bottle, and he fought the urge to panic.
Think. You can get out of this.
He let out his breath and flattened his chest as much as he could, and it gained him the extra half inch he needed to edge free of the crush.
He stumbled out between two fancy buildings onto a wide, clean street he knew he should recognize, and yet it seemed odd, out of place . . . until it snapped into focus.
He’d come out only three blocks from his family’s town house, where his mother and father took such pains looking gentrified. If he was seized here, there’d be some who’d know him on sight, and that would mean much, much worse for not just him; his whole family would be brought down. He had to get out of here. Now.
He rushed out into the street, directly under the wheels of a steam carriage, and into the darkness of another alley. It led in the right direction but twisted wrong soon enough. He’d not explored all the alleys near his home; he had enough to do with the routes the runners used. That was why his father had always ordered him to keep to the route—because it was so easy to be lost in complicated London, and getting lost while carrying contraband could be deadly.
At the next street he spotted a landmark a few blocks away: the glittering dome of St. Paul’s Serapeum, the physical presence of the Great Library in London, and one of the largest daughter libraries in Europe. It was beautiful and deadly, and he averted his eyes and made a vow to never, never go that way.
But he didn’t have a choice.
A Garda emerged from a doorway, clapped eyes on him, and shouted. Behind his pointing finger, the Garda was young, maybe the age Liam had been when he’d taken the rope. This young man was blond and had a weak chin, and his secondhand uniform fit about as well as Jess’s disguise.
But he was fast. Too fast. As Jess took off running he heard the slap of the Garda’s feet behind him, and the shrill, urgent toot of his whistle. They’d be coming from all around him. If they boxed him in here . . .
He took the only clear path out of danger. It was another dark, cramped alley, but the Garda was no side of beef and slipped through almost as easily as Jess did. Jess had to keep running, though his weary lungs were pumping fire, and the long legs of the Garda gained on him when they reached open street again. The watery London sunshine seemed to beat down on Jess’s head, and he was dripping with sweat. He was terrified that he might damage the book with it.
Not as terrified as he was of being caught, though.
More whistles. The Garda closed in.
Jess had no choice at all. They were driving him in one direction—toward the Serapeum. If he could get past the Garda barricades there, it was Library territory and under entirely different laws. The London Garda couldn’t trespass without clearances.
Up ahead, he saw the orange-and-black wood of the Garda barricade across the street, and the line of supplicants waiting to have their credentials checked. Jess pulled for his last reserves of speed, because that damned rabbit-heeled Garda was close enough to brush fingers on his shirt. He lurched forward, aimed for a hole in the crowd, and threw himself bodily forward toward the barricade. As the Garda behind him yelled for help, Jess grabbed the painted tiger-striped wood and vaulted over it in one smooth motion, hit the ground running on the other side, and heard the shouts of surprise and dismay echoing behind him. Someone laughed and yelled at him to keep going, and he grinned fiercely and risked a look back.
The Garda had stopped at the barricade—or, at least, one of his fellows had stopped him by getting in his way and holding him back. The two were scuffling, the younger man shouting angrily. His blood was still up from the chase, or he’d have had more sense. Jess knew he didn’t have long; they’d be sending a message to the High Garda, the elite guards of the Library, to intercept him. He needed to get through, and fast.
The street ahead had but fifty people on foot, including at least ten Scholars stalking in their billowing black robes. No steam carriages; they weren’t permitted here anymore, not since the Library had closed this road to through traffic. The golden dome rose serene and gleaming overhead, and below it, a waterfall of steps flowed down from it.
There were still scars on the steps, despite all efforts to clean it, from the last Burner explosion. Stains from the Greek fire and the burned bodies of those who’d been killed. A mound of dying flowers marked the spot, though a groundsman was in the process of shoving them into a bag for disposal. The mourning period was over. Time to move on.
Jess slowed to a jog as he caught sight of the lions. Stone, they resembled, but they had the feral look of life—something caught in a moment of violence, of fury and blood and death, about to spring. He’d heard of the automata, machines that moved on their own, but they were far, far more terrifying in person, now that he was close enough to really see them.
Jess risked another look behind. The London Garda would be organizing men to meet him beyond the barriers on the other side, if the Library’s High Garda didn’t bestir themselves to get him first. He needed to run, as quick as lightning, but despite that knowledge his feet slowed down to a walk.
He was smothered by dread. Fear. A horrible sense of being hunted.
And then one of the automaton lions turned its head toward him. The eyes shone red. Red like blood. Red like fire.
They could smell it on him, the illegal book. Or maybe just his fear.
Jess felt a wash of cold terror so strong it almost loosed his bladder, but he somehow managed to hold the lion’s fiery gaze as he kept walking on. He left the sidewalk and took to the middle of the street, where the authorized pedestrians seemed more comfortably gathered, and hoped to hide himself from those feral eyes.
The lion rose from its haunches, shook itself, and padded down the steps, soundless and beautiful and deadly. The other beasts woke, too, their eyes flickering red, bodies stretching.
A woman on the street—someone who’d been passed through the checkpoint—shrieked in alarm, clutched her bag, and ran for it. The others caught the fever and ran, too, and Jess ran with them, hoping they’d cover him like cutters even though they didn’t know they were part of his gang.
When he glanced back, two lions were loping behind them. They weren’t hurrying. They didn’t have to work very hard to overtake mere humans.
The first lion reached the laggardmost of the fleeing people—a female Scholar, dressed in clumsy robes and burdened with a heavy bag that she’d foolishly not abandoned—and leaped. Jess paused, because it was the most graceful and horrible thing he’d ever seen, and he saw the woman look back and see it coming and the horror on her face, her shriek cut short as the lion’s bulk crushed her down . . .
...but the lion never took its eyes off Jess. It killed her and left her and came on, straight for him. He could hear the whir and click of the gears inside.
He didn’t have time to feel the horror.
He’d thought he’d run himself flat out before, but now, now, seeing the death that was at his heels, Jess flew. He felt nothing but the pressure of the wind; he knew there was a crowd around him screaming for help and mercy, but he heard none of it. At the far end of the street stood the other Garda barrier, another crowd of people waiting for their turn, but that crowd was starting to scatter. The lions weren’t supposed to chase anyone past the boundaries of St. Paul’s, but nobody was going to take that risk. Not even the Garda, who abandoned their stations with the rest.
Jess was the first to the barricade, and he vaulted over it as the lions caught and crushed two more behind him. He tripped and fell and knew—knew—he would feel death on him in the next heartbeat. He flipped over on his back so he could see it coming, gagged for breath, and held up his hands in an entirely useless defense.
There was no need. The lions pulled up at the barricade. They paced back and forth and watched him with cold, red fury, but they didn’t, or couldn’t, leap the thin wooden line to come after him.
One roared. It was a sound like stones grinding and the screams of those it had killed, and he saw the sharp fangs in its mouth . . . and then both the lions turned and padded back up the street to the steps and back to the landing, where they settled into a waiting crouch.
He could see the bloody paw prints and human wreckage they left in their wake, and he couldn’t forget—knew he never would—the look of despair and horror on the face of the woman who’d been the first to be crushed.
He couldn’t think about that. Not now.
Jess rolled over, scrambled to his feet, and melted into the panicked crowd. He cut back onto his route after another few long, tense blocks. The Garda seemed to have lost the will to chase him. The deaths at the Serapeum would be explained away in the official news; nobody wanted to hear that the Library’s pet automata had slipped their leashes and killed innocents. Whispers said it had happened before, but this was the first time Jess had believed it.
He stopped at a public fountain to gulp some water and try to stop his shaking, and then a public convenience to check that the book was still snug and safe in its harness. It was. He took a slower pace the rest of the way and arrived at the end of the route just a few minutes late—exhausted but weak with relief. He just wanted to be finished, be home, for all the cold comfort it would offer him.
Buck up, boy. He could almost hear his father’s rough voice. No one lives forever. Count the day a victory.
It might be a victory, Jess reckoned, but it was a hollow one.
His instructions were to look for the man with a red waistcoat, and there the man was, sitting at his ease at an outdoor table. He sipped tea from a china cup. Jess didn’t know him, but he knew the type: filthy rich, idle, determined to make themselves important by collecting important things. Everything the man wore seemed tailored and perfect.
Jess knew how to make the approach. He ran up to the man and put on his best urchin face and said, “Please, sir, can you spare a bit for my sick mum?”
“Sick, is she?” The man raised his well-groomed eyebrows and set down his cup. “What ails the woman?”
This was the key question, and Jess held the man’s eyes as he said, “Her stomach, sir. Right here.” He placed a careful finger on the center of his chest, where his harness formed the bulge beneath.
The man nodded and smiled. “Well, that would seem to be a worthwhile cause. Come with me and I’ll see you right. Come on, now, don’t be afraid.”
Jess followed. Around the corner waited a beautiful steam carriage, all ornate curls of gold and silver and black enamel, with some coat of arms on the door that he got only a quick glance at before the man boosted him up inside. Jess expected the buyer to follow him in, but he didn’t.
The inside of the carriage had a glow tube running around the top that cast a dim golden light, and by it Jess realized that the one he’d taken for the flash client was really only a servant.
The old man sitting across from him was ever so much grander. His black suit seemed sharp enough to cut, the shirt the finest-quality silk, and he looked effortlessly pampered. Jess caught the rich gleam of gold at his cuffs and the shine of a huge diamond on the stickpin piercing his silk tie.
The only detail that didn’t fit with the image of a toff was the ice-cold eyes in that soft, wrinkled face. They looked like a killer’s.
What if this isn’t about the book? Jess thought. He knew kids could be taken for vile purposes, but his father always took precautions and punished those who took advantage of cutters . . . which was passing rare, these days, as even the toffs knew they weren’t safe from the long, strong arm of the Brightwells.
But looking at this man, nothing seemed so safe as all that. He glanced at the wide windows, but they were blacked out. No one could see inside.
“You are late.” The toff’s voice was soft and even. “I’m not accustomed to waiting.”
Jess swallowed hard. “Sorry, sir. Only by a minute,” he said. He unbuttoned his vest and pulled off his shirt, and worked the buckles behind his back to release the harness. It was, as he feared, dark with sweat, but the book compartment had been well lined, and the book itself wrapped in layers of protective oiled paper. “The book’s safe.”
The man grabbed for it like an addict for a pipe and ripped away the coverings. He let out a slow breath when his trembling fingers touched the ornate leather casing.
With a jolt of shock, Jess realized that he knew that book. He’d grown up seeing it in a glass case in his father’s deepest, darkest secret treasure trove. He didn’t yet read Greek, but he knew what the letters incised on the leather cover meant, because his father had taught him that much. It was the only existing hand copy of On Sphere-Making by Archimedes, and one of the first ever bound books. The original scroll had been destroyed by a Burner at the Alexandrian Library ages ago, but there had been one copy made. This one. Owning it carried a death penalty. When you steal a book, you steal from the world, the Library propaganda said, and Jess supposed it might be true.
Especially for this book.
He’d been running the rarest and most valuable thing in the entire world. No wonder his father hadn’t dared tell him what he carried.
The man looked up at him with an insanely bright gleam in his eyes. “You don’t know how long I’ve waited for this,” he said. “There’s nothing like possessing the best, boy. Nothing.”
As Jess watched in numb horror, the man tore a page from the book and stuffed it into his mouth.
“Stop!” Jess shrieked, and snatched for the book. “What are you doing?”
The old man shoved back and pinned Jess against the carriage wall with a silver-tipped walking stick. He grinned at him and ripped another page loose to chew and swallow.
“No,” Jess whispered. He felt horror-struck, and he didn’t even know why. This was like watching murder. Defilement. And it was somehow worse than either of those things. Even among his family, black trade as they were, books were holy things. Only the Burners thought different. Burners, and whatever this perverse creature might be.
The old man leisurely ripped loose another page. He seemed relaxed now. Sated. “Do you understand what I’m doing, boy?”
Jess shook his head. He was trembling all over.
“I have fellows who spend fortunes to slay the last living example of a rare animal and serve it for a dinner party. There’s no act of possession more complete than consuming the unique. It’s mine now. It will never be anyone else’s.”
“You’re mad,” Jess spat. He felt as though he might spew all over the fine leather and brightwork, and he couldn’t seem to get a clean breath.
The rich man chewed another page and swallowed, and his expression turned bitter. “Hold your tongue. You’re an unlettered guttersnipe, a nobody. I could kill you and leave you here, and no one would notice or care. But you’re not special enough to kill, boy. Ten a penny, the likes of you.” He ripped out another page. When Jess tried to grab for the book again, the old man pulled it out of his reach and smacked him soundly on the side of the head with the cane.
Jess reeled back with tears in his eyes and his head ringing like the bells of St. Paul’s. The man rapped on the carriage door. The flash servant in his red vest opened the door and grabbed Jess’s arm to haul him out to sprawl on the cobbles.
The toff leaned out and grinned at him with ink-stained teeth. He tossed something out—Jess’s ragpicker shirt and vest. And a single gold coin.
“For your troubles, gutter rat,” the old man said, and shoved another page of something that had once been perfect into his maw to chew it to bits.
Jess found he was weeping, and he didn’t know why, except he knew he could never go back to what he’d been before he’d climbed in that carriage. Never not remember.
The man in the vest climbed up to the driver’s seat of the carriage. He looked down on Jess with an unsmiling, unfeeling stare, then engaged the engine.
Jess saw the old toff inside the carriage tip his hat before he slammed the door, and then the conveyance lurched to a roll, heading away.
Jess came to his feet and ran a few steps after the departing carriage. “Wait!” he yelled, but it was useless, worthless, and it drew attention to the fact that he was half-naked and there was a very visible smuggling harness clutched to his chest. Jess wanted to retch. The death of people crushed under the paws of the Library’s lions had shocked him, but seeing that deliberate, horrifying destruction of a book—especially that book—it was far worse. St. Paul had said, Lives are short, but knowledge is eternal. Jess had never imagined that someone would be so empty that they’d need to destroy something that precious to feel full.
The carriage disappeared around a corner, and Jess had to think about himself, even shaky as he was. He tightened the buckles on the harness again, slipped the shirt over his head and added the vest, and then he walked—he did not run—back to the warehouse where his father waited. The city swirled around him in vague colors and faces.
He couldn’t even feel his legs, and he shivered almost constantly. Because the route had been burned into him, he walked by rote, taking the twists and turns without noting them, until he realized he was standing in the street of his father’s warehouse.
One of the guards at the door spotted him, darted out, and hustled him inside. “Jess? What happened, boy?”
Jess blinked. The man had a kind sort of look at the moment, not the killer Jess knew he could be. Jess shook his head and swiped at his face. His hand came away wet.
The man looked grave when Jess refused to speak, and motioned over one of his fellows, who ran off quick in search of Jess’s father. Jess sank down in a corner, still shaking, and when he looked up, his mirror image was standing in front of him—not quite his mirror, really, since Brendan’s hair had grown longer and he had a tiny scar on his chin.
Brendan crouched down to stare directly into his brother’s eyes. “You all right?” he asked. Jess shook his head. “You’re not bleeding, are you?” When Jess didn’t respond, Brendan leaned closer and dropped his voice low. “Did you run into a fiddler?”
Fiddler was the slang they used for the perverts, men and women alike, who liked to get their pleasure from children. For the first time, Jess found his voice. “No,” he said. “Not like that. Worse.”
Brendan blinked. “What’s worse than a fiddler?”
Jess didn’t want to tell him, and at that moment, he didn’t have to. The office door upstairs slammed, and Brendan jumped to his feet and disappeared again as he climbed up a ladder to the darkened storage where the book crates were hidden.
His father hurried over to where his eldest son sat leaning against the warehouse wall, and quickly ran hands over him to check for wounds. When he found none, he took off Jess’s vest and shirt. Callum breathed a sigh of relief when he saw the harness sat empty. “You delivered,” he said, and ruffled Jess’s hair. “Good lad.”
Approval from his father brought instant tears to Jess’s eyes, and he had to choke them down. I’m all untied, he thought, and he was ashamed of himself. He hadn’t been hurt. He hadn’t been fiddled. Why did he feel so sullied?
He took a deep breath and told his father the truth, from the lions and the dead people, to the toff in the carriage, to the death of On Sphere-Making. Because that was what he’d seen: a murder; the murder of something unique and irreplaceable. That, he began to realize, was what he felt that had left him so unsettled: grief. Grief and horror.
Jess expected his father—a man who still, at heart, loved the books he bought and sold so illegally—to be outraged, or at least share his son’s horror. Instead, Callum Brightwell just seemed resigned.
“You’re lucky to get away with your life, Jess,” he said. “He must have been drunk on his own power to let you see that, and walk. I’m sorry. It’s true, there are a few like him out there; we call ’em ink-lickers. Perverts, the lot of them.”
“But . . . that was the book. Archimedes’s book.” Jess understood, at a very fundamental level, that when he’d seen that book being destroyed, he’d seen a light pass out of the world. “Why did you do it, Da? Why did you sell it to him?”
Callum averted his eyes. He clapped Jess hard on the shoulder and squeezed with enough force to bend bone. “Because that’s our business. We sell books to those who pay for the privilege, and you’d best learn that what is done with them after is not our affair. But still, well done. Well done this day. We’ll make a Brightwell of you yet.”
His father had always been strict about his children writing nightly in their journals, and Jess took up his pen before bed. After much thought, he described the ink-licker, and what it was like seeing him chew up such a rare, beautiful thing. His da had always said it was for the future, a way for family to remember him once he was gone . . . and to never talk about business, because business lived beyond them. So he left that part out, running the book. He only talked about the pervert and how it had made him feel, seeing that. His da might not approve, but no one read personal journals. Even Brendan wouldn’t dare.
Jess dreamed uneasily that night of blood and lions and ink-stained teeth, and he knew nothing he’d done had been well done at all.
But it was the world in which he lived, in London, in the year 2025.
Work submitted by the Scholar Johannes Gutenberg, in the year 1455. Restricted to the Black Archives under the order of the Archivist Magister, for use of Curators only.
One thing is certain: the foundation of the Great Library itself, from the Doctrine of Mirroring forward, rests the safety and security of human knowledge upon the work of Obscurists, and this system cannot be long sustained.
I propose a purely mechanical solution. The attached designs show a device that can efficiently, accurately reproduce text without the involvement of an Obscurist, through the simple use of hand-cut letters, a frame in which they would be placed, ink, and plain paper. Through this method, we may eliminate the Doctrine of Mirroring and instead create fast, easily made reproductions of our volumes.
I have created a working model, and reproduced the page you hold now. It is the first of its kind, and I believe it is the future of the world.
Tota est scientia.
Annotation in the hand of the Archivist Magister.
It is unfortunate that Scholar Gutenberg has fallen prey to this unthinkable heresy. He fails to realize the danger of what he proposes. Without the Library’s steady guidance, this device would allow the uncontrollable spread of not only knowledge, but folly. Imagine a world in which anyone, anywhere, could create and distribute their own words, however ignorant or flawed! And we have often seen dangerous progress that was only just checked in time to prevent more chaos.
The machine is to be destroyed, of course, and all such research interdicted. Sadly, it becomes obvious that Scholar Gutenberg cannot be trusted. We must silence him and put this lethal heresy out of our minds.
I realize that Gutenberg is a great loss, but we cannot be weak if the Library is to resist this invasive, persistent disease of progress.
The first clue Jess had that his hiding place had been discovered came in the form of a hard, open-handed slap to the back of his head. He was engrossed in reading, and he’d failed to hear any telltale creak of boards behind him.
His first instinct was, of course, to save the book, and he protectively curled over the delicate pages even as he slid out of his chair and freed his right hand to draw a knife . . . but it wasn’t necessary.
“Brother,” he said. He didn’t take his hand off the weapon.
Brendan was laughing, but it was a bitter sound. “I knew I’d find you here,” he said. “You need some new hiding holes, Jess. No telling when Da will sniff you out of this one. What are you buried in this time?” They no longer looked quite so identical, now that they were older. Brendan wore his hair in a shaggy mess, which half concealed another scar he’d gotten during a run, but they’d grown at the same pace, so their eyes were on a level. Jess glared right back.
“Inventio Fortunata. The account of a monk from Oxford who sailed to the Arctic and back hundreds of years ago. And Da won’t find this place unless you tell him about it.”
“Sounds boring.” Brendan raised one eyebrow. It was a trick all his own, one Jess hadn’t been able to master, so Brendan used it all the time, just to be irritating. “So make it worth my while not to sell you out.” Brendan was already as ruthless a deal maker as their father, and that was no compliment. Jess dug in his pockets and came up with a sovereign, which Brendan took with evident satisfaction. “Agreed.” He walked the coin back and forth in an expert ripple over his knuckles.
“Damn you, Scraps. I was reading.” Jess called his brother Scraps only when he was really annoyed, because it was a bit of a cruel name: Brendan was the younger by a few seconds and had been born dangerously small. A leftover, an afterthought.
If Brendan minded the use of that once-loathed nickname, he hid it well. He just shrugged. “Like Da always says, we deal the stuff; we shouldn’t use it. Waste of time, what you get up to.”
“As opposed to what you do? Drinking and gambling?”
Brendan tossed a wet copy of the London Times on the floor between them. Jess carefully put down Inventio Fortunata to take up the flimsy newssheet. He wiped the beads of water from the page. The top story had an artist’s illustration of a face he recognized—older, but he’d never forget the bastard’s leering grin. Or the blackened teeth, chewing up priceless words written by a genius thousands of years before.
Brendan said, “Remember him? Six years late, but someone finally got your old ink-licker. Mysterious circumstances, according to the official story.”
“What’s the real story?”
“Someone slipped a knife between his ribs as he was coming out of his club, so not as mysterious as all that. They’re hushing it up. They’ll blame it on the Burners, eventually, if they admit it at all. Don’t need a reason to blame Burners.”
Jess looked up at his brother and almost asked, Did you do it?, but in truth, he really didn’t want to know the answer. “You came all this way to show me?”
Brendan shrugged. “Thought it might cheer your day. I know it always bothered you, him not getting his due.”
The paper was the morning edition, and it must have just turned evening, because as Jess handed it back, the newspaper erased itself, and filled line by line with new words. The ink-licker stayed front-page news, which probably would have pleased the vile old creature.
Brendan rolled the sheet up and slipped it in his pocket. He was making quite a puddle on the floor, and Jess tossed him a dirty towel he kept for wiping his own boots. Brendan sneered and tossed it back. “Well?” he asked. “You coming home?”
“In a while.”
“Da wants a word.”
Of course he did. Their father didn’t like Jess’s disappearances, especially since he’d hoped to train him up to inherit the family business. Problem was, Jess had no real love for it. He knew the smuggling trade, but Brendan was more eager and a better choice to take on Callum Brightwell’s mantle. Hiding himself away gave Jess freedom, and it also gave Scraps a chance that younger sons didn’t usually get.
Not that he’d ever admit, to Brendan or to anyone, that he was doing it as much for his brother as for himself.
“Stuff him. I’ll be home when I want to be home.” Jess sank down in the chair again. It was a dusty old thing, discarded from some rich banker’s house, and he’d dragged it half a mile to this half-collapsed manor off Warren Street. Too much of a wreck for buyers and too flash an area for squatters. It was a good place to hide out, with no one to bother him.
Especially sour, then, that Brendan had found him, because despite the sovereign, Jess would need to find himself a new reading room. He didn’t trust his brother not to drop hints . . . for his own good, of course. That meant dragging the chair with him. Again.
Brendan hadn’t moved. He was still dripping freely on the old boards. His eyes were steady and fixed now, and there was no humor in him. “Da said now, Jess. Shift it.”
There was no arguing when Brendan took that particular tone; it would come to a fight, no holds barred, and Jess didn’t particularly want to lose. He always did lose, because deep in his guts, he didn’t want to hurt his brother.
Brendan never seemed to have the same limits.
Jess carefully wrapped the fragile book in waterproof layers, then put it into a smuggling harness. He stripped off his loose shirt and fastened the buckles himself with the ease of long acquaintance, only half thinking about it, then put on the shirt and a vest carefully fitted to conceal the secrets beneath. No longer the ragamuffin cutter he’d once been; his shirt was linen now, and the vest well sewn with silk embroideries. He added a thick leather coat, something to keep the rain off, and tossed a second coat at his brother, who fielded it without a word of thanks.
Then the two of them, sixteen years old and mirror images, yet worlds apart, set off together across the city.
* * *
Brendan peeled off as soon as they arrived at the family town house; he ran upstairs, past a startled housemaid, who shouted at him about muddying the carpets. Jess tidied himself in the foyer, handed his wet coat to the parlormaid, and made sure his boots were clean before he stepped off onto the polished wood floor.
His mother was coming out of the formal parlor, though the visiting hours were long past. She gave him a quick head-to-toe assessment. He must have been dressed to her satisfaction, because she glided over and delivered a dry kiss on his cheek. She was a neat, pretty woman approaching middle age, with streaks of silver at her temples barely visible in her ash-blond hair. She smelled like light lavender and woodsmoke. The dark blue dress she wore today suited her.
“I wish you wouldn’t vex your father so much,” she told him, and put her hand lightly on his arm. “He’s in one of his moods again. Do try to be civil, for my sake.”
“I will,” he said, which was an empty promise, but then so was her show of concern. He and his mother weren’t close and never had been, really. In this, as in so much else in his life, Jess was alone.
He left her standing there, already engrossed in adjusting a fresh arrangement of daisies and roses, and walked down the hall to his father’s study. He knocked politely on the closed door and heard a grunt that meant permission to enter.
Inside, the study was all dark wood, warmed by the fire blazing in the hearth. Prefilled books with the seal of the Library on the spine lined the shelves, color-coded by subject; his father favored biographies and histories, and the maroon and blue leather bindings dominated. He’d purchased a dispensation to have a permanent collection in his home, so most of the books would never expire, never fade or go blank again.
There was not a single original hand-copied work in sight. Callum Brightwell gave no hint here that he was anything but a successful importer of goods. He modeled the Far East today, in the form of the red-orange Chinese silk waistcoat he was wearing beneath his jacket.
“Father,” Jess said, and waited for his da to look up and notice him.
It took a few long seconds of Callum’s pen moving across the surface of his personal journal before he said, “Sit, Jess. I’d have a word with you.”
“So Brendan told me.”
Callum laid down his pen and tented his fingers. His desk was a richly carved mahogany thing, with fantastical faces and giant clawed feet that reminded Jess, always, of the Library lions.
Jess took a chair well back from it. His father frowned. He probably thought it was disrespect. Jess would never want to tell him it was bad memories.
“You need to stop this running about,” he said. “The weather’s not fit for loitering about, and besides, I had work for you.”
“Sorry,” Jess said.
“Any idea where my copy of Inventio Fortunata has got off to? I had a client ask for it.”
“No,” Jess lied, though the slight weight of the book beneath his shirt and vest seemed to grow heavier as he did. His father didn’t usually care about an individual book, and Jess was always careful to take the ones that weren’t on consignment. “Do you want me to have a look around for it? Probably misfiled.”
“Never mind. I’ll sell him something else.” His father pushed his chair back and stood up to pace around the desk. Jess resisted the urge to stand, too. It would seem too wary. He didn’t sense danger, but his da was a master at sudden violence. Staying alert was better than signaling weakness. “It’s time for you to start paying your own way, my boy. You’re of an age.”
As if he hadn’t built up enough credit risking his life his entire childhood. Jess noticed that each step brought his father closer to him, in a roundabout but purposeful way.
“Not going to ask what I’m about, are you? Well played. You’re like your brother in that way: both thinkers. Means you’re sharp, and that’s good. Need a sharp mind out in the cold, cruel world.”
Jess was ready, but even so, his father was faster; he lunged forward, hands gripping the arms of Jess’s chair, and loomed over him. For all his sixteen years, all his height and strength, Jess suddenly felt like a gawky ten-year-old again, bracing for a blow.
He willed himself to take it without flinching, but the blow never came. His father just stared at him, close and too personal, and Jess had to steel himself to hold the gaze.
“You don’t want the business. That’s clear enough,” his father said. “But then, you’re not suited to running it, either. You’re more like some Scholar. You have ink in your blood, boy, and no help for it. Books will never be just a business to you.”
“I’ve never failed to do what you asked,” Jess said.
“And I never asked anything of you that I didn’t think you could do. If I told you to throw that book you’re smuggling under your shirt on the fire, you’d fail me in that, sure enough.”
Jess’s hands clenched hard, and he had to work not to shout his answer. “I’m not a bloody Burner.” He somehow kept it to a calm statement.
“That’s my point. Sometimes, in our business, destroying a book to keep from being found out is expedience, not some daft political statement. But you couldn’t do it. Not even to save your own skin.” His father shook his head and pushed away. The sudden freedom made Jess feel oddly weak as his da sank back into his desk chair. “I need to make some use of you. Can’t have you sponging off of us like some useless royal for the rest of your life. I spent my coin buying you the best tutors while your brother was earning an honest wage, and I admit, you’ve done us proud at your studies. But it’s time to look to your security.”
It was strange, how the idea of his father’s approval made him go hot and cold at the same time. Jess didn’t know how to take it, and he didn’t know what he was supposed to say. So he said nothing.
“Did you hear me?” Callum Brightwell’s voice was unexpectedly soft now, and Jess saw something new in the man’s face. He didn’t know what it was, but it made him sit back in his chair. “I’m talking about your future, Jess.”
Jess swallowed a sudden surge of unease. “What sort of future, if not in the business with you?”
“I’ve bought you a placement in the Library, provided you make the training.”
“Do me a favor!” His scoffing didn’t change his father’s expression, not even with a flicker of annoyance. “You can’t be serious. A Brightwell. In the Library.”
“I’m serious, boy. Having a son in Library service could do the clan immense benefit. You go on a few smuggling raids, set a few of those priceless volumes aside, and you’ll make us fortunes. You can send us advance word of raids, High Garda strategies, that sort of thing. And you’d have all the books you could ever lay your eyes on, besides.”
“You can’t be serious,” Jess said. “You want me to be your spy?”
“I want you to be our asset—and advocate, maybe, in the dire event the Brightwells should need one. Library rules the world, son. Best to have a seat at that table. Look, you’ve more spine and cunning than is comfortable for a father. You could do well at many things, but you could do better for your brother inside the Library. Maybe save his life one day.”
Of course his father would try to play on his heartstrings. “I’d never pass the entry test.”
“Why do you think I’ve been paying for those tutors, boy? You’d have to take care to answer only with what any young man your age could learn from the Codex, though. You’ve got all manner of unlicensed knowledge stuffed in your head. Flaunt it, and they’ll do worse to you than send you home disgraced.”
His father really was serious, and Jess’s anger faded with that knowledge; he’d never even considered working in Library service. The idea terrified him on one level; he’d never forgotten the trauma of those Library automata, crushing innocents under their paws. But the Library still held everything he’d ever wanted, too. All the knowledge in the world, right at his fingertips.
When he didn’t answer, though, his father sighed, and his voice took on an edge of impatience. “Call it a business deal, boy; it gets you what you crave, and it lends us advantage. Give it an honest go. Fair warning: should you go and give it up, or fail, you’ll get nothing else from this family from this day on. Not a penny.”
“And what if I stay here?”
“Then I still can’t be feeding and clothing a useless lout who’s got no loyalty and no usefulness, now, can I? You’ll work for us or be on the streets that much sooner.”
His father looked hard and unforgiving, and there wasn’t any doubt that he meant what he said. Library test, training, and maybe service, or out on his own at the age of sixteen, scraping a living any way he could on the streets. Jess had seen how that served other young men. He didn’t want it.
“You’re a low kind of man,” Jess said. “But I’ve always known that. Da.”
Callum smiled. His eyes were like cold, dry pebbles. “Is that agreement I hear?”
“Did you really give me a choice?”
His father came forward and dug his fingers hard enough into Jess’s shoulder to leave bruises. “No, son,” he said. “That’s why I’m good at my business. See you become just as good at yours.”
* * *
Buying a placement to Library training was expensive. Most families couldn’t afford to dream of something like that; it was a privilege for the filthy rich and the noble. The Brightwells were rich enough, but even so, it was a staggering sum to come up with.
Jess couldn’t help the thought that his future had been purchased by Archimedes’s ancient text, chewed up in that dark carriage when he was ten. Another thing he didn’t dare put in his personal journal, though he did fill pages with careful, tightly inked script about what it felt like, being put under such pressure to succeed. About how much he both loved and resented the opportunity.
His father paid the fee, and then it was up to Jess. The first step, and in many ways the hardest, was to report to the London Serapeum for the entry test. He’d avoided the place since the day with the lions, and he didn’t look forward to going there again. To Jess’s relief, he was driven by steam carriage to the public entrance on the west side. There were still a few of the statues, but they were positioned up on pedestals, so he wouldn’t have to come eye to eye with them.
He felt safer until he noticed the automaton of Queen Anne, staring down with blank eyes on those trudging up the steps. She held the royal orb in her left hand, and in her right, a golden scepter pointed down at the heads of those who passed below her pedestal.
She looked eerily human. He had the disquieting feeling that, like the lions, she stood in silent, merciless judgment, and for a giddy moment he imagined her eyes flaring bloodred and that scepter slamming down onto his head. Unfit for service.
But she didn’t move as he hurried past with the rest of the Library’s aspiring postulants.
The test was given in the Public Reading Room’s choir stall, and a Scholar robed in black with a silver band on her wrist handed out thin sheets to each of them as they sat down. There were, Jess estimated, about fifty sitting for the test. Most looked terrified, though whether they feared failure or success was open to debate. Failure, most like. They were all richly dressed, and no doubt their futures were riding on their performance. Today’s wealthy second son is tomorrow’s penniless lout, his father had always said.
The test page on Jess’s desk began to fill with text. It was in old Library script, designed to be attractive and ornate, and reading it was half the battle . . . but he’d seen and deciphered text far more difficult for fun. The opening questions, while designed to test the limits of a postulant’s knowledge, were laughably easy.
He took too much comfort in that, because when the next section came it was much harder, and before long, he began to worry and sweat in earnest. The Alchemical and Mechanical sections tested him to the limit, and he wasn’t so certain he did as well on the Medica portion as he’d intended. So much for thinking he would glide through without challenge.
Jess hesitated for a long time before signing his name to the end, which inked his final answers. The sheet went blank, and the elegant writing that next appeared told him that results would follow soon and he was free to depart the Serapeum.
When he left, Queen Anne was still judging those who passed, and he tried not to look directly at her as he took the steps two at a time. The day was warm and sunny, pigeons fluttering up in the front of the courtyard, and he looked for the Brightwell carriage, which should have been parked nearby. It had moved down the block, and he jogged toward it. He was nervous, he realized. Actually nervous about how he’d done on the test. He cared. It was a new sensation, and one he didn’t much care for.
“Sir?” Jess’s driver looked anxiously from his perch, clearly wanting to be gone; he was one of his father’s musclemen and had spent most of his criminal career staying well clear of the Library. Jess didn’t blame him. He got into the back, and as he sat down, his Codex—the leather-bound book that mirrored a list of the Core Collection straight from the Great Library in Alexandria—hummed. Someone had sent him a note. He cracked the cover to see it spell itself out in ornate Library script, one rounded letter at a time. He could even feel the faint vibration of pen scratch from the Library clerk who was transcribing the message.
We are pleased to inform you that JESS BRIGHTWELL is hereby accepted for the high honor of service to the Great Library. You are directed to report tomorrow to St. Pancras station in London at ten o’clock in the morning for transportation to Alexandria. Please refer to the list of approved items you may bring with you into service.
It was signed with the Library seal, which swelled up in raised red beneath the inked letters. Jess ran his fingers over it. It felt slick like wax, but as warm as blood, and he felt a tingle to it, like something alive.
His name stood out, too, in bold black. JESS BRIGHTWELL.
He swallowed hard, closed the book, and tried to control his suddenly racing pulse as the carriage clattered for home.
* * *
His mother, much affected (or feeling that she ought to be), presented him with a magnificent set of engraved styluses, and his father gifted him with a brand-new leather-bound Codex, a Scholar’s edition with plenty of extra pages for notes. Handsomely embossed with the Library symbol in gold.
His brother gave him nothing, but then, Jess hadn’t expected anything.
Dinner that night was unusually calm and festive. After the half measure of brandy his mother allowed, Jess found himself sitting alone on the back garden steps. It was a clear, cool night, unusual for London, and he stared up at the swelling white moon. The stars would be different, where he was going. But the moon would be the same.
He’d never expected that the prospect of leaving home would make him feel sad.
He didn’t hear Brendan come out, but it didn’t surprise him to hear the scrape of his brother’s boots on the stone behind him. “You’re never coming back.”
It wasn’t what Jess had expected, and he turned to look at Brendan, who slouched with his arms crossed in the shadows. Couldn’t read his expression.
“You’re clever, Jess, but Da’s wrong about one thing: you don’t just have ink in your blood. It’s in your bones. Your skeleton’s black with it. You go there, to them, and we’ll lose you forever.” Brendan shifted a little but didn’t look at him. “So don’t go.”
“I thought you wanted me gone.”
Brendan’s shoulders rose and fell. He pushed off and drifted away into the darkness. Off doing God knew what. I’m sorry, Scraps, he thought. But he wasn’t, not really. Staying here wasn’t his future, any more than the Library would be Brendan’s.
This would be his last night at home.
Jess went inside, wrote in his journal, and spent the rest of the evening reading Inventio Fortunata.
Which rather proved his brother’s point, he supposed.
* * *
The next day, his father accompanied Jess to St. Pancras and waved off servants to personally carry his case to the train . . . all without a single word or change of expression. As Jess accepted the bag from him, his father finally said, “Make us proud, son, or by God I’ll wallop you until you do.” But there was a faint wet shine in his eyes, and that made Jess feel uncomfortable. His father wasn’t weak and was never vulnerable.
So what he saw couldn’t be tears.
His father gave him a hard, quick nod and strode away through the swirl of passengers and pigeons. The humid belch of steam engines blew toward the vaulted ceiling of the station and intertwined in ornate ironworks. Familiar and strange at once. For a moment, Jess just stood on his own, testing himself. Trying to see how he felt caught between the old world and the new one that would come.
Still twenty minutes to the Alexandrian train, and he wondered whether or not to get a warm drink from one of the vendors in the stalls around the tracks, but as he was considering tea, he heard a commotion begin somewhere behind him.
It was a man raising his voice to a strident yell, and there was something in it that made him turn and listen.
“. . . say to you that you are deceived! That words are nothing more than false idols at which you worship! The Great Library may have once been a boon, but what is it today? What does it give us? It suppresses! It stifles! You, sir, do you own a book? No, sir, not a blank, filled only with what they want you to read . . . a real book, an original work, in the hand of the writer? Do you dare, madam? The Library owns our memories, yet you cannot own your own books! Why? Why do they fear it? Why do they fear to allow you the choice?”
Jess spotted the speaker, who’d climbed on a stone bench and was now lecturing those passing by as he held up a journal. It wasn’t a blank from the Serapeum, stamped with the Library’s emblem. What the man brandished was far finer, with a hand-tooled leather cover and his name on it in gilt. His personal journal, in which he would write daily. Jess had one quite like it. After all, the Library provided them free on the birth of a child, and encouraged every citizen of the world to write their thoughts and memories from the earliest age possible. Everyone kept a record of the days and hours of their lives to be archived in the Library upon their deaths. The Library was a kind of memorial, in that way. It was one reason the people loved it so, for the fact that it lent them a kind of immortality.
This man waved his personal journal like a torch, and there was a fever light in his face that made Jess feel uneasy. He knew the rhetoric. The Garda would be on the way soon.
Excerpted from "Ink and Bone"
Copyright © 2016 Rachel Caine.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Praise for the Novels of Rachel Caine:
“Rachel Caine is a first-class storyteller who can deal out amazing plot twists as though she was dealing cards.”—#1 New York Times Bestselling Author Charlaine Harris
“Evocative and ambitious.”—Publishers Weekly
“Every time I think Rachel Caine can’t top herself, she does.”—Fiction Vixen
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This series is one of my favorites! The characters are phenomenal and the story line is original and fun! What more could you want?!
I really enjoyed this story! I have wanted to read this book ever since I first started seeing a lot of great reviews for it. I then started noticing that people not only loved this book but they were loving the other books in the series. That sealed the deal and I knew that I would have to work this book in very soon. I ended up reading almost the entire book in a single day. I am starting to understand why everyone seems to love Rachel Caine's work as much as they do. One of the things that I really loved about this book was the world building. What a vividly detailed world to spend some time in! As the book progressed and we discovered more about how things worked, I was amazed. The descriptions of the technology were so well done but I don't think I am going to be signing up to be transported in that world anytime soon. The politics and inner workings of the library were intriguing. The cast of characters in this book were wonderful. We see things from Jess's point of view and I liked his character from the very start. He proved that he was brave and able to think very quickly. The other candidates for joining the library were all so different but each added something to the story. I liked some of these characters quite a bit from the very start, like Thomas. I needed a little more time to get to know some of the other characters a bit more before I really liked them but by the end of the story, they had all won my heart. I highly recommend this book to others. This book has really left me eager to see what is going to happen to everyone in the next book. I will definitely be reading more from Rachel Caine in the very near future. I received an advance reader copy of this book from Penguin Publishing Group via Blogging for Books.
Having a library in charge of the world's knowledge sounds like amazing things. With the goal of the library being the preservation of original works (think old school documents and hand-made books) and the distribution of books through blanks (think tablets only in the shape of a book with actual pages), The Library seems to be a force for good. But when the wrong people are in charge, knowledge and innovation can be stifled and withheld. This is The Library as it is today. Jess Brightwell isn't the most obvious choice to work as a librarian, but it's his life goal. The son of a smuggling family, he's access to information and books that most people are not allowed to see. He has a love of the written word and longs to know more. Most of the story revolves around Jess after he accepted for training in The Library. They are an interesting group, and I really enjoyed how their personalities clashed and meshed in various ways. The training in intense and often dangerous. And, most of all, eye-opening. Jess realizes The Library isn't the idealist entity that he looked up to his whole life, and he has to come to terms with some very hard truths about himself and his fellow trainees. One of the really fun aspects of the book are the little snippets into the Black Archives or destroyed works that are deemed too dangerous for the public. Through these little bits and pieces, the reader is able to see into the heart of The Library and its leaders, see into the past and how it took the wrong turn into tyranny. This was a fantastic start to a new series. Amazing characters, an intriguing world, and a search for a better way to use the vast knowledge of the world. **I voluntarily read a review copy of this book**
A book about the Great Library of Alexandria, and a fantasy to boot. I was sold and knew it would be a good fit for me. Owning books is forbidden in this world. You can view and read books through the use of alchemy, but can’t actually own a book. I don’t know about you but I love my physical books. I just know I’d break the rules and something terrible would happen. And so it goes with this story. Jess breaks the rules with his illegal cache of books. How interesting as he’s assigned to spy on those who break those very rules. When something wondrous and potentially dangerous is created it could change the world. Chaos ensues and it’s not just books that will be burned. Ooh, now how does that grab ya? Once I got familiar with this world I was quickly swept away. Lots of intrigue and suspense kept me enthralled right to the finale. This is an exciting beginning to a promising fantasy series. I’ll be visiting it again.
Ink and Bone is the first book in The Great Library series by Rachel Caine. It is 2025 in London. Everything is controlled by The Great Library. The Library is the keeper of knowledge, wisdom, and information. Jess Brightwell is the son of Callum Brightwell, a book dealer. Unfortunately, dealing in real, original books (hard covers with printed pages) is illegal. Jess is taught the business from a young age. He starts out as a runner where he delivers the illegal books to clients (and will be arrested if caught). The one thing Jess does love about the business is the books. He will read anything he can get his hands on (which means pilfering them from his father and hoping he does not notice). When Jess is sixteen, Callum buys him a placement in the Library training program. First Jess will have to pass a test and be accepted (which he passes with flying colors). Callum does have an ulterior motive, of course. Jess will be training in Alexandria where the Great Library is housed (other cities have satellite libraries). Callum will want Jess to acquire and deliver books. Jess is thrilled to get away (and hopes to find a way to avoid his father’s demands). The training is difficult and rigorous. Not all the candidates will make it through the training program. Their teacher is Scholar Christopher Wolfe and he is not thrilled to be teaching a group of postulants (as the students are called). Scholar Wolfe has no intention of taking it easy on this group. One by one the students are dismissed. Then the final group has to go on a dangerous assignment to save books in a war zone. Who will make it back alive? I enjoyed Ink and Bone for the most part. It is an interesting world (Rachel Caine came up with some unique things), and I liked the main character (especially his love of books and reading). There is a lot of action in the second half of the book (especially towards the end) which made it more interesting and gave the book a faster pace (better than the first part). Imagine a world where owning a real book (especially old, first edition books) made with paper and ink is illegal! The Library owns all originals and you can be arrested/jailed if caught with books (especially trading in them). There is violence and death in the book (if not for that it would more suited to young adults/tweens). I give Ink and Bone 4 out of 5 stars (I liked it). I will be reading the next book in the series to see what happens next (I admit that I am curious). I received a complimentary copy of Ink and Bone from NetGalley in exchange for an honest evaluation of the book. The comments and opinions expressed are my own.
“The first purpose of a librarian is to preserve and defend our books. Sometimes, that means dying for them - or making someone else die for them. Tota est scientia.” INK AND BONE by Rachel Caine was one fantastic wild ride! It's the first book in a new series in which history is re-written and the awesome Great Library of Alexandria has survived. But, in an unexpected twist of fate, the Great Library now rules the world and libraries are restrictive places - not the libraries we know and love. In the author's world, it is actually illegal to own a book. Of course, people still crave to hold books - to smell them - to lovingly turn the pages - all activities that are strictly prohibited. So... an underground black book market flourishes. This story is told from the view of Jess Brightwell, a young man who was raised in a family whose business is book smuggling. Of course, that line of business is frowned upon as the Great Library controls access to all books. With the encouragement of his father who aspires to have an insider spy in the Great Library, Jess becomes an applicant to a possible position there. However, applying is by no means an assurance of obtaining a position. Positions are highly coveted and limited. The competition is stiff. Within these pages, we meet the applicants who are competing for the few positions available. We attend the trials with Jess. There's learning experiences, underhanded deals, cheating, and political upheavals. With the Great Library, it's a given that what you see, is not what you get. Following please find a few of my favorite quotes from this read: “You have ink in your blood, boy, and no help for it. Books will never be just a business to you.” --- “They've all got stories, Jess thought. I need to know them. Best of all, he could know them. He could learn anything here. It felt like limitless possibilities.” --- “There are three parts to learning: information, knowledge and wisdom, A mere accumulation of information is not knowledge, and a treasure of knowledge is not in itself, wisdom.” --- “As Jess watched in numb horror, the man tore a page from the book and stuffed it into his mouth.”... “This was like watching murder. Defilement. And it was something worse than either of those things. Even among his family, black trade as they were, books were holy things.” INK AND BONE is well-written and perfectly paced. The word-building is quite imaginative. It was an enthralling reading experience. It is a YA book and includes just a small hint of a romance. This is actually the first book I've ever read by Rachel Caine, but it won't be the last. PAPER AND FIRE, the next book in this series, releases this coming week and I can't wait! My full review is posted at Reading Between The Wines Book Club. Please check it out there!
Imagine living in a world where the Library is pretty much in charge. They have the only access to real books and everyone else only has access to special digital copies that don't really exist. The access only lasts for so long and then after that, the words are deleted. Each time someone wants to read the book, the words have to be created through a very complicated way, using Alchemists, and that way is diminishing. Then, since books are limited and hard to get a hold of, there is a group of thieves that steal and sell real copies of books. Some of which are very expensive because they are the only copy in existence. Those who can afford them sometimes only want to have them in their own personal collections...but others want to be the only ones who ever have access to the book so they EAT them. And then, there is the group that is against the Library in its entirety. They take books so they can do public demonstrations by burning them. They attack Libraries and Librarians. Once you have imagined this, you more or less have the world of Ink and Bone. It is a futuristic world of the one we currently live in. However, it is far from wonderful. Aside from what I already told you about the world, there are also countries at war with one another. And there is a lot of turmoil between pretty much everyone no matter where you turn. Our main character in Ink and Bone is Jess Brightwell. He is a son to one of the illegal book sellers. And his father has forced him to go to the Library and to try to become one of those in the inner circle. You guys have no idea how complex and wonderful this world is. There is so much to it and so much going on. You never quite know what is going to happen and to who! It keeps you on your toes the whole time! I also really enjoyed the school aspect. It was depicted in a way that I would have loved to go there myself and to study. If I couldn't go to Hogwarts, I would want to be able to go there. I think I loved pretty much every single character we came across, well...at least those characters we were supposed to love. They were all very well developed and had a lot of layers to them. Almost every single character was well crafted. The only exceptions to this was when they were characters meant to live very much in the background and to not really be noticed. All in all, I loved this book. I could see how it could have actually been our world if we solely went with digital books and removed all physical copies. It wasn't too much of a stretch really from what we already have. Just twist some history points around and you have the world that Ink and Bone gives us. Very very creative and wonderful. My Rating 5 Stars Find more of my reviews here: http://readingwithcupcakes.blogspot.com/ This review is based on a copy provided by the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Title: Ink and Bone - The Great Library 1 Author: Rachel Caine Published: 7-7-15 Publisher: Penguin Berkley Group Pages: 360 Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy Sub Genre: Dystopia, Teen & YA; Romance ISBN: 9780451472397 ASIN: B00OQS4BQQ Reviewer: DelAnne Reviewed For: NetGalley Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars . Book Blurb, "Ruthless and supremely powerful, The Great Library is a major presence in every city and it governs the flow of information to the masses. Alchemy allows the Library to deliver the content of the greatest works of history instantly, but the personal ownership of books is expressly forbidden." Can anyone say Fahrenheit 451? Ray Bradberry's book scared the very devil out of me in the 7th grade. The possibility is there today. They will allow any movie to be made and purchased, but books are banned for content or source of origin. Imagine what is would mean if the Library of Alexandria survived the passage of time and had not been destroyed. What if it was the only source of written material to every corner of the world. What would you do if it was illegal to privately own a book of any kind? That to do so was punishable by death, would you defy the law? That is what Jess Brightwell's family has done for generations. They deal in the black-market trade of books. Jess grew up loving books, the way they feel in his hands, their weight and the way they smell. Jess does not refuse when his father sends him to become a Library Trainee and become a spy for the family. Soon Jess because to question why he is there. He is not sure the Library is as bad as his family believes. He begins to doubt where his loyalties lie. The longer her trains the more he question the Library, his fellow trainees and his family's business. When Jess is charged with heresy for a device he invented that would change how the Library works forever. Jess learns of the real power behind the Library and that they are more ready to kill anyone they feel threatens The Library. Just as Bradberry's vision of the future frightened many who read Fahrenheit 451 so should The Library. How can it not? Rachel Caine has done a fabulous job of creating a world with her words that the reader can envision and feel they are there walking down through the library. Holding the few books in private hands. Feel the fear of those hunted by authorities. The characters both main and secondary are well developed and believable. This is a new series and for an opening book it is a great start. Book two Paper and Fire will be out this July and will continue where Ink and Bone leaves off. My rating is 4 1/2 out of 5 stars.
The Great Library of Alexandria has become the greatest power in the world, completely in control of the distribution of knowledge to the population, with a sister library in every major city on every continent. The people are not allowed to own their own books, it is illegal. But that doesn't stop everyone. Jess Brightwell grew up running books throughout London for his father, a black market smuggler. When Jess is sixteen, his father sends him for Library training, this way they can have a spy on the inside. Jess' loyalty to his family is tested as he enters training and makes friends among the other postulates. When one of his friends inadvertently commits heresy, Jess must find a way to help his friends and possibly stop the library's tyranny. I liked this book very much. Being so attached to books myself, the idea that the great library of Alexandria could have survived is entertainment itself but to turn it into a controlling monster.... I love how knowledge is seen as being so important in this story, though I hate the people who have used this knowledge as a way of controlling the people. I must admit, I had a hard time picturing these people in this day, as the modern people. I felt more like I was reading a historical fiction rather than a distopian historical fiction. I was a little disappointed by the lack of action in the first half of the book. After reading the blurb on the cover, I expected much more action, including the act of heresy, to happen much sooner. However, once it does pick up, I was not disappointed and I found that the first half of the novel to be completely awesome and necessary. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good story about books, not to mention the wonderful distopian, evil government, fantasy novel.
Well, that was interesting, but in a good way. I'm not sure why I wasn't expecting what the author gave us by way of the story - maybe I didn't read the introductory blurb correctly or missed key elements. Overall it was much more steampunk than I had imagined. That portion should not have surprised me at all considering dear, slightly mad Myrnin from the Morganville series. In fact, the violence and death should not have surprised me either. So why did this story about a group of young people competing for a spot in The Library stump me? I'm just not sure. Perhaps my love of our libraries blinded me. This library is not our library. [It could be when you consider how those in power like censorship or if eBooks were the only reading material permitted.] Rachel Caine created a world/an alternate universe where The Great Library of Alexandria (one of the seven wonders of the ancient world) became super powerful, gathered all written material, and decided what should be destroyed/hidden, kept, or shared. The society created through this endeavor is filled with burners, ink lickers, smugglers, etc. It is a well thought out world. The story structure is comprised of chapters filled with action and in between we see correspondence from high ranking Library officials. These ephemera provide the reader with additional information the postulants do not have. The setting and structure aside, a good story also needs good characters or character development. I really like how Rachel Caine developed her characters. The unsympathetic ones we dislike from the start. Sympathetic characters we like right away. Others may start out seemingly unsympathetic until we find out more about them either through action or a Library missive. Then we may like them more, love them, or be wary of their potential. Wolfe: physically he appears in my mind's eye as a combination of Karkarof (with much better teeth) and Snape from the Harry Potter series. Wolfe's secrets become known to the reader early on, but not all the details are revealed. His character opens slowly and he moves from stern and unapproachable to caring and proud. He does his best knowing his limitations. Santi: easily my favorite character (I fear for his future). This soldier and bodyguard is much more. The way his character evolves, as well as his relationship with Wolfe and his students...impressive. He is quick and his thinking tactical and wise. There is a reason he holds the rank he does. Jess: the main character, the hero - I have a love/dislike relationship with him. Instead of seeing his efforts as contributions, he whines about being used. Get used to it, kid - everyone's talents and expertise are used to help situations and survival. Outside of those instances he focused on being a victim, Jess grew from a scared student to minor soldier to caring friend. He sees the growth of the others and as his/her situation changes he embraces the others as comrades in arms and then friends. If you're looking for a book with diversity...this is the series to try. Boys and girls from all over the world compete to become a part of The Library. Each has their own reasons for competing. Each has secrets. In the end, I really liked and enjoyed this book. Some scenes were shocking, but I wouldn't give the movie an R rating. More like a PG-13 for violence. While I look forward to the next installment, I hope the series isn't quite as long as Morganville.
This was a hard book for book for me to pin down. At first I was a bit confused about the premise and I had to read about 100 pages before really diving in. I think it is because this book seems to be part dystopian/part fantasy. It is so much more than exploring the idea of a still surviving Library of Alexander. There is an oppressive government and constant monitoring, as well as magic that is used to update and catalogue the Library. I think this book does a great job of setting the scene for future books in the series. We learn about Jess’ character and his initial trials that will push him towards his future decisions. We meet the characters that are likely to both help and harm Jess’ efforts and we are introduced to the world that all of this will take place in. With this solid base established, I am interested to see where Caine takes the series in future books.
4.5 Stars - Original Review at 125Pages.com Ink and Bone is a spectacle of awesomeness. I really enjoy Rachel Caine, I have her Weather Warden, Outcast Season and Morganville Vampires series and have enjoyed them all. So when I heard she was starting a new series I grabbed the first book. Then I didn’t read it for three months, and now I am sad I waited so long to read it but happy that it pushed me a few months closer to book two (Paper and Fire). The world built was rich and dynamic and oh so captivating. Set in a world where the great library of Alexandria was never destroyed; it instead is the leading power. The Great Library pushes down what it considers subversive thought and controls all of the knowledge. Books are not allowed to be privately owned and strict punishment is handed down to those who are caught owning and running illegal books. Jess, the lead, is deeply conflicted and torn between his family and his future and is a character you can truly root for. The characters were vibrant and detailed, even the ones you know are going to end up as cannon fodder. The plot was very inventive and full of action. A lot of first in a series books are so focused on world building that they are light on the action and this was not the case. I was very glad that Ink and Bone was not a cookie cutter dystopian YA novel; it was a fresh take on an alternate time line and it was great.
Having already read author Rachel Caine’s Morganville Vampires series years ago, I was excited to get reading her newest series The Great Library. If the cover wasn’t enough to hook your attention and tell you that some serious business was about to go down, the novel’s premise will. Imagine a world where the Great Library of Alexandria survived. What would humanity look like? What would the world be if all of those books had been saved and maintain through the ages? Ink and Bone tackles these questions and introduces readers to a unique, immersive world unlike any other. Set in the year 2025, the Great Library stands in Alexandria, with its’ respectful daughter libraries located all around the planet in the form of Serapeums. Jess Brightwell’s family is dedicated to running books from the Library—original pieces that have withstood the test of time—to the highest bidder. Now in his late teens and having faced the horrors associated with running, Jess’s father manages to get him an opportunity that will make his entire bloodline proud. Jess will become a spy within the Library, by training to join their ranks. But as it turns out, joining the Library’s ranks of scholars is a more daunting task than Jess once believed. Danger lingers at every corner and there’s no knowing just how far he will have to go to become one of them. What I loved most about Ink and Bone was the world that Caine has created. It is incredibly well-made and is easy to picture in the reader’s mind. Admittedly, I was a bit nervous about the novel’s setting. A future where the Great Library lived? What would that entail? So far, it meant a somewhat dystopic future where alchemists still exist in the form of heretics and where the ownership of a truly original book is outlawed. All in all, the plot itself wasn’t at all what I anticipated based on the description given on the novel’s jacket. I imagined that the story would be all about Jess running books somehow while within the Library and while that does come in (as it’s essential to Jess’s character) there’s so much more to the story. The majority of the novel is nothing but Jess and his fellow Postulants being graded by their Proctor and going through various ‘gauntlets’ too earn their placement within the Library. Very Divergent with less fighting and more problem-solving oriented challenges. The characters in Ink and Bone are all very diverse in both personality and ethnicity, and I feel that many readers will be able to find characters who they adore and characters who they despise. Personally, I enjoyed Jess’s character and the character Khalila. The two of them had great interactions that just felt so real to read. They’re both head-strong, stubborn and incredibly sassy when need be. Throughout the novel, you can’t help but wonder if what’s been deemed just in this world really is. The question of morality pops up throughout Ink and bone and leaves readers wondering what they would do if they were in this society. The novel does end on a bit of a cliff-hanger that should leave many readers eager to find out what happens next. My only issue with this book that I can think of, was the instances where high-intensity scenes would have their pace slowed down by unnecessary detailing. Other than that, it was a very entertaining read. I would recommend this novel to any readers who are looking for a novel where a group of teen protagonists are faced with multiple challenges in order to achieve an end goal (i.e.
Very good book
The book instantly reminded me of Harry Potter. A smart kid not treated well by his family. Going off to school where he has a strict instructor. Jess becomes friends with a super smart girl and his best friend is a lovable guy who will be by his side no matter what. There’s also a fellow student who is viciously out to get Jess. And they find out that there is an evil force wanting to stop anyone who doesn’t think the same way. But there is so much more to this book besides… I like the alternative history angle of the story. The idea that the printing press as technology is continually surpresed by the Library of Alexandria is an interesting parallel to the world we live in with social media. It shows how the proliferation of ideas in countries where the media and internet isn’t government censored, to a comparison of countries like China, where it is censored. The book stresses the continual fight between the natural tendency for technology to advance in a way that allows for ideas to spread and the struggle of a power structure to control those ideas. What’s even more interesting is the question of who or what is allowed to generate new ideas, which is not really addressed in this book. In Ink and Bone the Library of Alexandria works very hard to obtain, preserve and make available, in a controlled way, the classic and existing texts. But in a world where the library controls the distribution of books and the content within those books, the regular people are not the idea makers. It is very hard, next to impossible, for their ideas to proliferate. Another really intriguing element to the story is the diary that everyone is encouraged to keep. These journals are an historical archive of every person’s life. They are treated with such reverence and respect, but are also revealed to be not at all private in the way they were thought to be. This is a not so subtle jab at Facebook and social media in general, where we give away so much personal information in exchange for social approval, but at the same time give away any or all semblance of privacy. Wrap around all of these thought provoking ideas with a couple of love stories, friendship, magic and slavery, and you’ve got yourself a really good story. *I was given an Advance Reader’s copy by the Ace/Roc promotional team. All thoughts and opinions are my own, and I was not given any money or material incentives for an honest review of this book.
I loved the premise of this book: Instead of the Library of Alexandria disappearing, it becomes the "impartial" reservoir of all knowledge. Written books are supposed to be handed over to the Library, which leads to an extensive black market trade. There was a lot to like about this book, and I'm glad the author's already working on book 2! Pros: Diverse characters, full of personality Bits of ephemera between chapters to flesh out back story Main character learns to accept himself as an individual Just enough description, great world-building Homosexual relationship presented as accepted Cons: Sometimes the pace seemed distracted or slowed Character deaths, there were logical mostly, I just hate when named characters die :( This is definitely something everyone should read and share with their friends as soon as possible! I received this galley in exchange for an honest review through AceRocStars.
I received an ARC of Ink And Bone by Rachel Caine from AceRocStars in exchange for an honest review. I want to start by saying this was the first work I have ever read by this author, and I was blown away! Right on the cover it says "knowledge is power". What could be truer? In the book, this power is hoarded, coveted, and controlled by the Great Library. People very rarely come in contact or see an original printed book. Instead they are shown "mirrored" copies on a blank (I picture today's e-readers when I try to imagine what they are like). But some works are never shared at all. They are locked up tight, the information they contain to radical and dangerous to be seen. That knowledge is owned by a rare few in the library, and that tight control is what has kept the library in power for so long. But there are those in the world who would like to see this power overthrown and to bring change in the world. The extremist are called burners, and they do exactly as their name says. They burn books and try to destroy the library piece by piece. But there are others too who just want to make things better. To not need "obscurists" anymore so they could all be free to live their lives. Jess, Wolfe, and Morgan may all have a hand in books to come to make this change occur. I hope so. I truly enjoyed this book. I felt connected with Jess, Morgan, Thomas, and Wolfe the most. The moments of actions in the book read very intensely and often had me on the edge of my seat. Ink and Bone definitely had a steam punk feel to it, but with a little magic, or alchemy, included. The ending left me right where it should have, with a healthy mix of uncertainty, excitement, and with Morgan's last written words to Jess, a dash of hope. I suggest fans of YA, fantasy, and steam punk alike read this book. You'll be glad you did!
Ink and Bones by Rachel Caine 5 out of 5 Stars Very infrequently you find a book/author that truly speaks to every part of you, this amazing story did just that. The entire story, from the opening line to the last sentence, is seen, felt, heard, and absorbed in such a way that the characters are real, relatable people that you have to keep alive by reading just one more page. Full of variety, love, sorrow, deciete, and thickening plot Caine's story truly grows like a wisened narley live oak tree, branching out slowly with fluidity and finesse. One of my top 5 for the year! I hope I am given the privelage to read an advanced copy of Book 2. *A complimentary copy was given in exchange for an honest review* Pippa, My Secret Book Spot
Could not stop reading. Was sorry when I got to the end but am anxious for the next book
This is quickly becoming my favorite book by Rachel. Set in an alternate-reality world where the Great Library of Alexandria was not destroyed. Where is rose up to dominate the world and all it's knowledge. Poor Jess, our main character, is an amazingly written teen who endears himself to the reader quickly and tears at your heartstrings repeatedly throughout the book. He is joined by a diverse ensemble of supporting characters who each add to the new world Rachel has built. From start to finish this book drives the reader from one scene to the next, taking you on a roller coaster ride of action and emotion.
As a person who needs books as much as oxygen, the thought of a world where the ownership of books is illegal horrifies me - almost like my own personal hell. So I had to read this book. First, this is a beautiful cover and it immediately caught my eye and made me want to know what kind of story lived inside, though I have to admit, it took me quite a while to be hooked. I even considered not finishing the book, but other reviewers had mentioned a slow start, and encouraged the reader to stick around and they would be rewarded. The story really didn't take off for me until around the 50% mark, but then the pacing was nearly break-neck and I didn't want to stop reading. Based on other reviews I've seen, I'm in the minority as far as having issues with the pacing. The characterization in this book is outstanding. I liked Jess and the world he lives in and seeing him evolve from someone who never quite fit in with his family to a brave, confident, and persistent young man who sticks to his beliefs was so satisfying. This book contains an extensive and diverse list of characters, although some of them weren't what they initially seemed and I enjoyed the way the author gradually reveals different facets of their personalities. Much was said about the Obscurists, but I still don't feel like I have good grasp on what they are exactly. I went back through the book again but, although they're referenced numerous times, only bits and pieces of their function are revealed. Although I had a difficult time getting into this book, I'm glad I stuck with it and I definitely plan on continuing with this series. Thanks to Penguin First to Read for the digital ARC.