This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“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, who are involved in the thriving black market. 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 he inadvertently commits heresy by creating a device that could change the world, Jess discovers that those who control the Great Library believe that knowledge is more valuable than any human life—and soon both heretics and books will burn…”
A world where knowledge is prized and yet zealously controlled–it’s that kind of contradiction that makes for an intriguing premise. Now admittedly, we’ve had stories like this before that touch on control of ideas, along the lines of 1984 and Brave New World. This one seems to have skewed towards some things that are relevant today, specifically the control of digital books. In this novel, Librarians have discovered something called mirroring that allows a blank book to “download” the text of any available book, but only temporarily. It calls to mind situations where digital rights to a book are lost and people wake up to find the book has vanished from their e-readers. I don’t know if the author intended this exactly, but it is what popped into my mind, and it makes the book more in tune with our world.
The story is really well done, with plenty of action and a well-defined role for the Librarians in this alternate world. There’s a good amount of intrigue mixed in as well, with questions about factions within the Great Library and who may be in control. Of course, this also feeds into concerns that many people have today about control of the flow of info, with complaints about news organizations and disinformation online. Again, not sure if it was intended, but it dovetails pretty well with current events.
The one thing that I found myself not thrilled with was the overall worldbuilding. Supposedly, this entire alternate scenario came about because the Great Library at Alexandria wasn’t burned. I don’t see any compelling evidence within the plot for this one pivotal event to cause the world to be so firmly under the control of the Library in the present day of the novel. Also, the whole concept of mirroring seems to be a form of magic, but it’s really the only evidence of magic that we see, and I have no clue where it came from. I’m hoping that these questions are addressed in future novels.
What it all boils down to is that I would have liked more worldbuilding details, but the story itself made up for a lot of my dissatisfaction. I can’t help but enjoy a world where books are so valuable as to be their own kind of contraband (although obviously I’d prefer that everyone have free access). I’m eager to see what Caine does with this alternate timeline, because this story has a ton of potential.