For a book belonging to a series titled "The Great Library", I though there would be a lot more, I don't know... books? I mean there were definitely more book scenes and book-related content than most books, but it was like reading a book about sea turtles and only having turtles in 25-50% of the book. So decent sea-turtle presence, but less than I would have expected.
Jess Brightwell lives in a society where owning a personal copy of any book is illegal. If you wish to read a book, you may access it instantly through a "blank", allowing The Great Library to control what knowledge is released to the general public. Jess, however, is part of a system that smuggles books--real books--to paying clients. Some of which are... interesting. Jess is sent to The Great Library of Alexandria to serve as a spy for his family, where he learns some startling truths about the Library and how it keeps its citizens under control. When everything starts to go south, which side will Jess take?
Books like these, but especially this book, always hit a nerve with me because I do have strong feelings when it comes to censorship, especially when it comes to books. I also own a ton of personal copies of books. Both of which are huge parts of this book. We recently had a book banned temporarily from one of our libraries a couple months ago, and while I was still able to read it after buying it from Amazon, it was still extremely frustrating (and worrying) for myself and many others, because of the door that it opens for other books to be banned. The idea of the government controlling every. single. book. that I wanted to check out just makes me want to go on a 1000 page rant. I am very lucky to live in a place where most books are not censored, and I am very thankful for that. The reason I bring this up is just to point out that this is a topic that I feel very strongly about, and I really do believe that Rachel Caine did a great job of highlighting what the dangers of government-controlled reading can be.
Putting aside my Very Strong Feelings for a moment, let's talk about Jess. Male protagonists are pretty rare in YA, and in YA fantasy, although they are becoming progressively more common. I've actually been on a male protagonist reading kick lately, albeit unintentionally, but I would have to say that Jess has been one of my favorites. He is one of those characters that is torn between two different aspects of his life, but not in a waffly or unbelievable way. He truly believes in the Library system, but is also pulled in a different direction by his family, and really has no say in the matter. And it is his family that eventually puts him in a situation where he is learning more about the Library system than he actually wants to. In a lot of novels you have the main character who is the Special Snowflake who knows everything and can see straight through the tyrannical government... but I thought that Caine did a wonderful job of emphasizing the fact that this isn't how it always works. When you don't know anything different, it can be easy to believe that the authoritarian figure is right, and that they have your best interest at heart. Jess' character development really emphasized this struggle, and this realization that maybe everything isn't as it should be.
I really love how this book takes important topics, like government censorship, and wraps it in a story that's enjoyable and easy to read. Taken at face value, Ink and Bone could just be another fantasy book. But Caine manages to talk about some very important issues, in a non in-your-face way, while keeping the story interesting and intriguing. Obviously this is influenced by my very strong feelings on this topic, and I will freely admit this without hesitation. But I do think that these issues need to be addressed, and that this book does a great job of addressing them without sacrificing the fantasy appeal. I did have some issues with the romance in this book, because of the same cliches that kept appearing, but overall I believe that the message that was portrayed in this book was much more important than any romantic cliches that it may have fallen into.