Review: Paper and Fire by Rachel Caine

Sunday, July 3, 2016
Title: Paper and Fire
Author: Rachel Caine
Genre: historical fiction, steampunk
Series: The Great Library #2
Pages: 368
Published: July 5 2016
Source: ARC from publisher
Rating: 4/5

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…

This series has one of my favorite concepts created for an alternate reality scenario -- that the Great Library of Alexandria was never burned and instead became the a world power --  and longtime YA author Rachel Caine uses her fertile imagination cleverly in the execution of that idea. The originality of the premise was introduced in the series' beginning novel, Ink and Bone, and is now even further expanded and explored in the second volume. Picking right up where the first book left off, Paper and Fire rarely missteps in its calculated journey to the finish.

Though Paper and Fire is an eventful and unpredictable book, it is somewhat less action-oriented than its predecessor. Ink and Bone was a whirlwind of action and violence, racing from point to point and while Paper and Fire does have elements of those, it's slower in pace; more sly, introspective, and anticipatory in nature. A lot of this book -- the first half at least -- is spent with the main group gathering information, making secret plans, interspersed with small instances of ominous aggression on behalf of the Artifex and Archivist. It's not even close to boring because Caine makes the question at the heart of the plot, what drives Jess, Glain, Khalila, Dario et al, matter both to them and to the reader. 

It's easy to invest in Caine's group of characters because they're always developed and shown to be varied, interesting, and realistic. I enjoyed her vampire series  but was drawn to them mostly for the characters and the relationships. Here with Paper and Fire and Ink and Bone before it, the appeal of her books has broadened as Caine has honed her craft. In this series, the world and worldbuilding are far more original, and the characters still have the distinct, memorable personalities I'd expect from this author. Pivotal things like Jess and Dario's fluctuating relationship, Morgan's complication emotions, Santi's divided loyalties.. all of these relationships and dynamics are so deftly plotted it's hard not to emotionally invest in these lives caught up in the Great Library's schemes.  

This was so nearly a five-star read for me. Even on the rare occasion I could predict where the story would go, the emotional payout was worth it. However, the last fourth of the novel lost some of the charm. It felt entirely too convoluted. There's a lot that happens very fast and there are some definite clarity issues about how things finish. There are some exciting, big changes on the horizon for the world within Paper and Fire and for the characters themselves. I do like where the overall story arc is headed, but the clumsy ending of this particular book in the series needs some smoothing.  


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