I have been reading The Great Library series by Rachel Caine over a few years and have now reached the final volume Sword and Pen. This is the fifth of the books and concludes the series begun in Ink and Bone and including Smoke and Iron which I review here. These books are marketed as Young Adult fiction but I wouldn’t let that stop you reading them as they are beautifully written and, in my opinion, suitable for adults as well. I have read some others of this author’s books but found none as enjoyable as this series.
The books are set in a version of our world where the Great Library of Alexandria was never destroyed but became the repository of all knowledge. Over the centuries it has restricted access to information and accumulated significant power. At the start of the series several teenagers join the Library as apprentices including Jess who comes from a family of book smugglers and who has accepted the position to benefit the trade of his father. As the books progress the group of youngsters, teamed with some good people from the Library and associates from elsewhere, challenge the leadership and power of this institution and learn to work together and trust one another. Each of them faces a challenge to the way that they think and find themselves drawn into things which they would not originally have expected. They all do a lot of growing up in the series – although you follow most of the characters it is Jess who gets the most narrative.
In the penultimate book in the series the leadership of the library has been overthrown but that has just left a power vacuum. Now, the band of rebels has to establish new leadership and fend off others who would try to take over. It isn’t easy and not all of them will survive unscathed.
This is a truly satisfying fantasy series. The characters are well created and each adds something to the story. The leadership of the Library is truly chilling and I loved the mechanical creations which guard its secrets. Being a Young Adult book means that a group of teenagers have all the skills needed to win victory which is a little unrealistic but the author does bring into the narrative adults and others to assist – it is, after all, a fantasy.
I recommend this series. I think it is very satisfying and cleverly constructed. I think that the characterisations are particularly well done. I think that the author has something meaningful to say about access to information. The settings and the Library itself are interesting creations. If you enjoy a good fantasy series then I suggest that you try this one.