Ink and Bone: Thoughts
Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine follows book smuggler Jess Brightwell as he leaves the family business in the black market behind for a position at The Great Library in Alexandria, Egypt. In this alternate world, the Library was never lost to history, and is the world's reigning power. With a dash of alchemy, they control civilization with menacing automatons and censure everything the population reads. Original paper and ink books are a rarity and illegal for civilians to own. What knowledge is spread is strictly guarded, and there are secrets the Library has killed for, secrets that go deeper than just protecting original books.
This story sounded great to me. Fellow reviewers marked it highly. But from the first few chapters, I had the sinking feeling that Ink and Bone was not going to do for me what it had for others. I felt no connection to any of the characters and the story - while full of interesting concepts - failed to hook me at any point.
The core reason for my detachment is the simple fact that Caine failed to emotionally connect me to the belief system of this world. Do I love books? Um, obviously. Paper and ink, printed books. No kindles for this woman (still holding strong). There's just nothing better than the weight and feel of a real book. So, naturally, a story about cherishing all books and the lengths an alternate society would go to protect the greatest library called to me. The foundational love was already there, all Caine had to do was sell a convincing story. How the hell did she fail? I'll use the following example:
"As Jess watched in numb horror, the man tore a page from the book and stuffed it into his mouth...'No,' Jess whispered. He felt horror-struck, and he didn't even know why. This was like watching murder. Defilement. And it was somehow worse than either of those things.
The man leaned out and grinned at him with ink-stained teeth. Jess found he was weeping, and he didn't know why, except he knew he could never go back to what he'd been before...never not remember."
I'll skip over the redundant wording (a huge issue in Caine's writing, and not the only one) and move on for this example. In this world, there are "perverts" (actual description) that eat original books when they get their hands on them. The more valuable, the better. Ink-lickers they're called.
Uh, what? All right, books are sacred. The Library controls all governments, for the good of knowledge and the preservation of all that which is sacred. Real books are a black market item, for which people sometimes kill. Caine had me up until there. But people who eat paper and ink? Sorry, I know she is trying to establish an understanding to what this society feels for such an act with a relatable circumstance in our reality...but the words "pervert" and "murder" bring to mind a whole slew of emotions that do not even remotely relate to eating paper. *shrugs* I just don't buy it, and that did not change from start to finish. Not to mention that much of the writing simply made no sense - random adjectives thrown in that I suppose when uttered quickly may sound nicely said but in literal translation are just plain ridiculous. Not sure if I would call it malapropism or catachresis, but it's along those lines.
Suspension of disbelief aside, there was still the opportunity to craft engaging characters with whom I could experience this adventure. Not one - not our main character or any of the secondary characters - had any dimension. There are some pairings, and I'll credit Caine with not making them completely obvious right off the bat, but even the teensy (I'm talking three paragraphs, max) bit of romance in the novel was dull and lacking any semblance of emotion. Characters died (a lot of them) and I felt nothing. Nothing. My sappy, easily broken heart did not even stutter over the losses. And that I can only attribute to poorly crafted, flat characters.
As I hate to only mention my negative thoughts, I must include a positive: Scholar Wolfe. Complicated, complex, and surprising; his was the only intriguing character. Interest in his development was what had me holding on until the end, though even revelations about his past did little to stir me into excitement.
*sigh* I am disappointed, truly, in my reaction to Ink and Bone.
Still, two stars for the fact that my imagination conjured up quite a dream of Morgan manipulating formulae - a tiny testament to the fact that there was great potential for this story concept, had Caine the ability to better construct and execute her ideas.
I've never read Caine's other series, and I hear they are popular, but I'd hazard a safe guess to say her writing does nothing for me. I will be leaving her behind, and I doubt I'll look back.
Discuss this and other reviews with me over on Goodreads!