Hello and welcome to another edition of Your Mileage May Vary, the book review series where I talk about books I actually managed to finish. Today I’ll be discussing Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine.
Before we get started, as always:
So, here we have yet another YA book that I bought on an impulse without completely checking the age category. That being said, I thought the premise was so good that I was able to get through it with very little difficulty (for the most part, but we’ll get to that).
Our setting is a world in which the Great Library of Alexandria never burnt down and instead spawned “daughter libraries” across the world, expanding the power of the written word and, more importantly, that of the Library itself. Our protagonist is Jess, the son of a prominent book smuggler who deals in originals – a big no-no in this world where the Library’s word is law – who has gone to Alexandria to compete for a job within the Library organization.
Fuckin rad, right? I thought so.
But when it was all said and done, and I had a chance to sleep on it, my feelings about the book were rather mixed.
So let’s start with the good, shall we? First of all, as I mentioned, the premise was rocking. I was completely sold on the all-powerful Library, the fact that books are both revered and very much illegal to own. I liked the interplay of the main characters, “postulants,” trying to earn positions within the Library workforce while also acknowledging how dangerous and backwards the Library can be. I liked the slow burn of Wolfe, the teens’ proctor, going from petty bastard who hates his job and hates his charges, to the reveal that he was fucking reprogrammed by the Library after dabbling in “dangerous” technology (aka printing presses). Also, hello queer representation. Here for it.
I also really appreciated that, unlike the last YA I tried to read, this book didn’t try to dress up it’s teen protagonists as adults. They were very much kids tryna get internships, more or less. And far from being a turn off for me, it was kind of refreshing that the story just… let them be teenagers.
And now the picky bitch comes out. Strap in folks.
There are a lot of threads in this book that don’t go anywhere. This novel is full to the brim of ideas it never expounds upon, leaving someone like me who was thirsty for the premise and the setting, rather parched.
While at first I thought the prologue was largely fine, in that it introduced the family dynamic Jess had with his father and introduced a suitably creepy story thread to potentially follow, by the end of the novel I was disappointed that almost nothing we get in the prologue is substantively important for the rest of the book. I was hoping that the story would be about hunting down “ink-lickers,” rich collectors who fucking eat books because they are so rare and valuable, but instead the ink-lickers are barely mentioned after the prologue. Jess’s relationship with his twin brother Brendan also felt like an unnecessary loose end that kept cropping up throughout the book without any sort of direction or payoff. Even the trauma of the ten year old Jess causing the death of a woman via one of the Library’s huge “automaton” guards isn’t really explored, leaving me to feel like it (and the prologue as a whole, come to it) could have been left out altogether.
Nor did I love Jess’s budding relationship with Morgan. I felt she was introduced way too late and that the subplot took up a lot of the oxygen in the second half of the novel, in a complete departure from the first half. While Wolfe’s defiance of the Library and Morgan’s quest for freedom were two story threads that were, by their nature, intertwined, they didn’t blend well together and it ended up feeling like they were competing to be the more important thing we should care about (Wolfe won for me, honestly). But even his ending didn’t make any a lot of sense, even with the in universe explanations? Morgan gets shackled and sent off to live in a tower and make babies and do the Library’s most precious work, Thomas gets fucking murdered, and the one guy the Library wanted to ensure is punished gets… to go back to work? Oh, sure, Jess is blackmailed into spying on him for the foreseeable future, but then Wolfe is just… allowed to give the kid an assignment that ensures they have no reason to work together anymore?? And Jess is somehow salty about that???
And finally, it wouldn’t be a book review if I didn’t get super nitpicky about something. The big revelation that the Library was secretly reading everyone’s personal journals, after all the propaganda of how important it is to make a record of one’s life to be enshrined in said Library forever? I mean? DUH! Of course they were reading them the whole time! I mean I genuinely thought that it was implied from the beginning! Jess’s shock at the violation actually made me laugh and cheapened the climax of the Morgan subplot because like… I mean… DUHHHHHHHH.
By and large, what has sat with me the most is that this story didn’t feel complete. It felt like it was trying to entice me to read the sequel. And, of course, most good books that expand into series will do that, but this felt like it was abusing my good faith by telling me this that and the other thing are important, but not telling me the why of it. Just saying “stay tuned” with a wink emoji. Bleh. That said, I most likely will not be continuing the series.
Final rating for Ink and Bone: 3 out of 5 miles.
Which is a shame because I still think the setting is just the fucking coolest.
In any case, another book down in my 22-Review Challenge which I literally just made up. Next up on my list: Fate of the Fallen by Kel Kade. See you next time!