Ink and Bone: The Great Library (Book 1)
Rachel Caine
NAL (July, 2015)

What if Gutenberg never invented the printing press? Well, now suppose that magician/alchemists had created a way to share knowledge but only the knowledge they deem appropriate. Now also suppose that these alchemists create a worldwide network of libraries that rule over the masses with a steampowered iron fist that can transform itself into a metal beast that could crush your bones and douse your body in Greek fire should you hoard an original book. If you can suppose all that then you’re more than half-way there. The Great Library follows Jess, son of a book smuggler who supposes that his bookish son would be better off as an insider in the all-powerful Library than as a street thug in the family business. We follow Jess and his fellow “postulants” as they learn the inner workings of the library and vie for coveted jobs/placements in a grueling training.

I loved this book. It took me a chapter or two to become integrated into the rules of the world, but part of the fun is discovering all of the tiny elements that make a place unique. We’re introduced to automatons, which are like animated steel robots programmed to be lethal guard dogs, in the first chapter. They are the muscle of the Great Library and their ruthlessness is what you’re supposed to take note of. As a reader we know from jump street that the library is evil, but we get to feel the horror of the reveal through the eyes of the postulants vying for a position in the organization. There is a LOT of action that mostly hinges on the horrors of war itself, and not so much on the mechanical elements of the steampunkish setting, which I like because there is a focus on human relationships and the pain we inflict on each other. If the machines are the focus, or the magic is the focus we might be able to blame those external elements for the suffering we see on the page. Although, I thought some of the love relationships developed a little too quickly, specifically between Jess and Morgan, but we’ll see how that turns out in Book 2.

The diversity quotient is pretty good. Our main characters are caucasian, but the supporting characters are all fleshed out well with representatives from all over the world. There are definitely no dusky savages or tokens, which is often a problem with fantasy.

This book is great for:
  • Steampunk newbies
  • Anyone looking for great action and adventure
  • Anyone who needs an escape
Discussion Questions:
1. Brendan is Jess’ twin, but they couldn’t be more different. How?
2. Jess’ Dad is a hard man and he’s raised his boys to be tough. Do you think he loves them? Why or why not?
3. Khalila and Dario have a bit of a budding romance going. Do you think it’s going to work?
4. The library has been suppressing the idea of a printing press for centuries. What are they afraid of?
5. Compare the idea of blanks to your average ereader. How are they similar? What would happen if all books in our current world were replaced with ereaders?
6. Should Morgan forgive Jess for betraying her? Write an apology from Jess to Morgan and share with the group.
7. It’s 2025 in the book, though it feels like the late 19th century by the description of the clothes and the language. Why do you think that is? 
8. Postulate what kinds of advances in human history would have been hindered by the suppression of some texts.
9. What kinds of books do you think the library might suppress?
10. Give evidence in the real world or Jess’ world in support of the library’s censorship ideals.
If you like this, try:
After you finish the sequel to Ink and Bone you’ll be on the lookout for more fantasy bent on toppling evil regimes. You’ll find it in The Young Elites by Marie Lu.

Rachel Caine gives you a fantastic soundtrack in the back of the book so check it out while you’re reading.

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