I’m going to hold up on the writing tips this week and just blather on about a book series that I recently read and loved. Reading good books and seeing what works about them is still an important way to become a better writer yourself, so I guess I could sort of count it. This isn’t really going to be a book review, more my personal thoughts on the series.
The Great Library series by Rachel Caine is set in an alternative history world where the Library of Alexandria never burned down and by the year 2031, it has essentially taken control of the entire world and allowed for many marvels of technology to be developed. The entire Library catalog is accessed through an i-Pad like device called a Codex, so long as the Library allows it. Inter-country travel is possible through a ‘translation chamber’, which is like a Star Trek transporter but powered by alchemy. So for all of that wonderful technology, why does the world still rely upon steam power rather than electricity? Why was the printing press never invented? And why is the sale and ownership of private books banned and punishable by death?
This where the protagonist Jess Brightwell comes in. His family runs an illegal smuggling ring, which has given Jess access to real books not available on his codex and a thirst for knowledge. His father sends him to train as a scholar at the main library in Alexandria to aid the family business. Unfortunately, the world is on the cusp of a global war so most of Jess’ duties involve entering war zones to safeguard rare books, even at the cost of the lives of his fellow recruits. The more Jess learns about the library, the more he realises how corrupt it really is and how its constrictive control of knowledge is holding back progress. It takes more and more from him, even the people he loves. But his smuggler skills and intelligence may be the right tools to finally bring an end to the Library’s tyranny and control over knowledge.
The steampunkish setting of the book is cool enough on its own and if you’re a book nerd like me, the thought of a world controlled by a library is infinitely cool. Even after I read on and discovered how corrupt the library was, that didn’t stop me wishing I could be a scholar in this world. I even had dreams about it. The idea of a ruling body with a great concept but poor execution even has many relevant parallels to the current political climate.
The characters are the other thing that won me over in this book. Jess’ love of books and desire to preserve them is admirable enough, but we also see him questioning what is right and whether his loyalties should lie with his family, his friends, or the Library. The entire cast is sympathetically diverse, which is more essential than ever in fiction, well developed, and with a heart-warming bond between them. Wolfe, Jess’ tutor, and Santi, the squad’s bodyguard, are simultaneously the most adorable and badass gay couple you will ever read about in fiction. It is still interesting that as much as I love the cast, the book does still make the reader severely question at times where everybody’s loyalties lie and who can really be trusted.
I can’t really think of any major flaws except that the various ranks and titles for important characters all sound somewhat similar so it can be difficult to tell them apart at times. There is also an error in the formatting that there are no noticeable scene breaks, making for jarring switches from one scene or viewpoint to another. But these are incredibly minor nitpicks.
Otherwise, if you’re as big of a book nerd as me then I can’t recommend this series highly enough. The next book is scheduled for release next year so now 2017 really can’t get here fast enough.