Review: Paper and Fire by Rachel Caine
Series: The Great Library #2
Also by this author: Ink and Bone
Published by NAL on July 5th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Also in this series: Ink and Bone
In Ink and Bone, New York Times bestselling author Rachel Caine introduced a world where knowledge is power, and power corrupts absolutely. Now, she continues the story of those who dare to defy the Great Library—and rewrite history…
With an iron fist, The Great Library controls the knowledge of the world, ruthlessly stamping out all rebellion, forbidding the personal ownership of books in the name of the greater good.
Jess Brightwell has survived his introduction to the sinister, seductive world of the Library, but serving in its army is nothing like he envisioned. His life and the lives of those he cares for have been altered forever. His best friend is lost, and Morgan, the girl he loves, is locked away in the Iron Tower and doomed to a life apart.
Embarking on a mission to save one of their own, Jess and his band of allies make one wrong move and suddenly find themselves hunted by the Library’s deadly automata and forced to flee Alexandria, all the way to London.
But Jess’s home isn’t safe anymore. The Welsh army is coming, London is burning, and soon, Jess must choose between his friends, his family, or the Library willing to sacrifice anything and anyone in the search for ultimate control…
Last year, I was taken quite off guard when Ink and Bone (which was not on my radar until I received a copy form the publisher) blew me away and earned a 5 star review. This was a book that I had zero preconceived notions or expectations of. I had not read Rachel Caine previously and had no idea what her world or characters would be like. In other words, everything was brand new for me in Ink and Bone. I had hoped that Paper and Fire could carry that momentum but unfortunately found that it faltered for me a bit more than its predecessor. I have to warn you, this review was difficult to write in that I felt I had more complaints mainly because I have a 3.5 star review for a book following a 5 star review. So, please keep in mind that the book is still good. I just explain many reasons that prevented this from being another 5 star book for me.
I do feel that some of my loss of excitement came from already being familiar with the world. Yes, the Library is evil. They hoard and control all of the books and information. I remember this shocking and disturbing bit from the first book and it was part of what made the first book so terribly intriguing. I mean, what could be worse for book lovers? So, while that was new and fascinating in the first book, in the second book it was just a continuation from what we learned previously. But I feel like that is not the only reason this book faltered. There are many book 2s that expand and continue what was previously a new and wonderful world and the reader still feels that same excitement as in the first book.
In Paper and Fire, Jess is completing his training as a member of Library Guarda (militia). But he is also still working the underground for personal reasons, searching out rare books through the smuggling network he can access via his family name and background. I mean, this is Jess we are talking about, of course he is going to be doing things that can get him in trouble or ripped to shreds by the automata. And I have to confess, his somewhat reckless risk taking is one of the things I enjoy about him. He is driven to do what he feels he must, and operates within his own code of ethics, one that he does seem quite committed to (and one that, honestly, makes more sense to the reader). Also, speaking of the automata, we get a much better picture of them in this book, which is definitely an interesting aspect of the story.
I do like Jess. I mean, a sarcastic person who has been on the outside (as a smuggler), its hard for me not to like him as he carries his secrets around with him. I will say past Jess, all of the other characters felt a bit more distant in this book. I can’t say I really connected or felt attached to anyone else, and that can be an issue for me in a book like this where I feel characters are really what drives the reader to care about the overall story. I also found all the romantic pairings a little bit eye-roll inducing. It’s nothing that hampered my overall enjoyment, just something I noted.
Jess uses his network of friends within the library (as well as outside of it when necessary) for a personal mission that he is willing to risk his life for. And of course, he finds himself on the run. So, Paper and Fire has a decent amount of action and tension. In fact, at times I wondered if there was a bit too much, sort of short circuiting the suspense by desensitizing the reader to it (is that a thing? can you be desensitized to action, violence and suspense in a book if it presents it too often? I am inclined to think for me that can be true). In addition to the automata and members of the Library hunting them, there is also a war with the Welsh that is threatening London. I hate to say it, but this conflict actually did little for me. I almost felt like it was just thrown in there as another obstacle because otherwise their journey would be too easy. It was important in some ways, and maybe if there had been an additional POV to personalize that conflict a bit more, it would have worked better for me. But as it is, somehow I never felt suspense or concern over it, more like “Oh, yeah. If this wasn’t happening, the book would be too short”.
Again, I am not saying this is a bad book or that it is not worth reading. But I am saying that I don’t feel I had as strong or immersive reading experience as I did with the first book and it unfortunately, it can be hard to not dwell on that. I will be curious to hear how other readers respond to this one to see if I am going to be in the minority.
All of this said, I will definitely read the next installment of this series. It ends on a note that will make you wish you had the next book on hand (in fact, the ending may have been on of the most gripping parts of the book for me).
Review originally posted on The Speculative Herald.