“The Library holds itself to be the Keeper of both knowledge and wisdom, but it is not true. So much should never be held in the hands of so few, for it is a natural, venal habit of men to hold power. And knowledge is the purest form of power.”
The Library at Alexandria was never burned and remains an extremely powerful force in the modern world. The power of the Library is in the year 2025 comparable to that of the Catholic Church at it’s height. In order to read any work an individual must request it directly from the Library onto their Codex; any physical copy is contraband, controlling the growth of technology and the progress of international civilizations.
Growing up as part of a book-smuggling family, books are in Jess’s bones. His family pays to get him a spot as a potential candidate to join the Library and spy for them and smuggle directly from the source. Unfortunately, Jess actually cares about books, unlike the rest of his family that is just in it for the money and do not care what happens to the books once they have been delivered to a purchaser.
Probably the most impressive part of this was the skill of the author in that, of all sides of the power-struggle in the story, none are pure. In a way, everyone is a bad guy. Jess’s family, as mentioned, is only in it for the money. If Jess fails to deliver, his family flat out told him that he will be on the streets, completely on his own. The Library is corrupt and withholds knowledge solely because “knowledge is power” and they hoard the immense power they have. The Burners are the biggest opposition to the Library, but as their name suggests, they burn the books.
Although the story takes place in the near future, because of the withholding of knowledge, technology lags behind by a few hundred years, has a late1800s feel. Steam engines and horse carriages are utilized side by side.
Most of the characters were really well written, especially Scholar Wolfe. Several of the potential candidates for the Library basically had ulterior motives for being there. Sadly, the only character that was truly difficult to connect with was the main female character, Morgan. Her story was kind of at the center of everything but there was really nothing to her besides that. Because of this there was a feeling that something was lacking in her relationship with Jess. As she will continue to be a focus in future books, I really hope that we get to see her in a more multi-dimensional way.
The only thing that stopped this book from being a stellar book was the way that it did not feel like a full plot. A lot happened but nothing was really resolved, leaving the book feeling anti-climatic so it was hard to have strong feelings about it even though there was really a lot to like.
So as a history nerd, I just have a few issues with some really minor details that honestly had no significance to the story. First, there are a few comments made early in the book about women in ancient Egypt not being allowed to read. As by the time the story takes place, they are allowed to read, this really has no impact on the story but I just want to say that Ancient Egyptian women were allowed to read. Egyptians did not treat women the way many of their contemporaries did. Also, currently the city of Alexandria resides underwater due to an earthquake 1800 years ago or so. I would just like some commentary on how this was avoided.
I also would like to see some Church/Library interactions in future novels. Both are notorious for smothering knowledge they did not want made public and persecuting those that they did not agree with. I would think that these two powers would not interact well with each other and I desperately want to see more of how all that worked out or if it did.
While the story left me with lots of questions about this world and its history, It still engaged me with its characters and interesting plot. Jess is a fun character to read and what I like is that he doesn’t always make the right decisions. He is stuck in this world that has his back against a wall and he is just trying to survive.
The fact that the Library is holding the world back is such an original and exciting story to me. I am looking forward to how Jess, the Library, and the rest of the world interact in later books. They have this amazing technology, like the blanks (which can turn into any book you request. YES PLEASE!), yet they still have steam engines and horse drawn carriages.
With the way the technology was, it was difficult for me to pin where the time period was set for this book. But that is the charm of it, a world that should be more advance but isn’t. It’s in the future but not in the future, that’s some kind of Back to the Future craziness isn’t it?