The Great Library Series

Book’m Nerdo: The Great Library Review

So, this is going to be an interesting review to write up. I could write it up for each book in the Great Library Series by Rachel Caine. I have read three of the books and am going to be starting on the fourth soon. But I think it’s probably more interesting to write about the series as a whole to talk about the ups and downs of it and what works and what might not work as well.

The Great Library Premise

Jess is a book smuggler, his family as a whole are book smugglers, but that’s not what he loves. He loves to read books and learn. But due to the Library at Alexandria controlling all of the books, he doesn’t get read everything he wants and all knowledge is tightly controlled by the library. He ventures to the library to become a scholar so that he can help the family business. There he meets and interesting cast of characters as he studies and finds out that the library is not that good an organization. How can he and his fellow classmates and library counterparts work to take down this institution?

Initial Thoughts

The premise is not that unique, but it is unique at the same time. The idea that one area controls all knowledge is how some parts of the actual world work. But this takes it even further. It’s not just that all knowledge is controlled, it’s that your story, and your life, that information of it belongs to the library as well. And the library doesn’t want anyone else to know about certain things. And there is magic, but in an interesting and smaller way than something like Harry Potter.

Now, just because the library piece is interesting, this falls into that category of Divergent and The Hunger Games, where it is a small group against the big evil rulers. The plot is a bit simplistic that way. Caine does try and create two groups, the Library and the Burners who the protagonist has to deal with. Even the main character’s family being smugglers are another group that he bumps up again. But it is a tried and true, generally, plan for the plot.

What Doesn’t Work

Honestly, I don’t have too many complaints about the books. I think that compared to a lot of YA (young adult) fiction, that it works well. But that doesn’t mean that it is flawless. I think there are two things that have stood out to me, the biggest issue being the third book.

The second book ends on a cliffhanger. I won’t say what it is because that’ll give away part of the story and I don’t want to do that, I think it is a good series. But book three makes a key mistake in it, at least for me. When there is a cliffhanger, I want it resolved and then have the story progress. I don’t think the third book does that, it spends a long time working through the fallout of the cliffhanger, and the story just kind of stagnates. I get why that might be the case in how Caine writes it. We are getting our main introduction to a group of characters, but it’s too long and while stuff happens, it could have happened much faster.

The second part of book three is much stronger because the story progresses and progresses in a way that I really like. But that’s the last half or less of the book when it feels like the story progresses again. I think that book three just needed another pass by an editor to really tighten up the story, which would have probably made the book shorter, but it’d have felt like less of a slog to get through.

The other thing that bugged me and it isn’t a big deal, is she sets the time frame when this happens. That shouldn’t be a big deal, but it’s kind of dumb. There is zero reason for this to be set at any time, and with the bits of text we get from “real” people who are writing against the library, we can generally place when this story must be happening. I think the issue for me is how she added it into the story, it was dropped at the end of a paragraph like it was a big reveal ,it most certainly wasn’t. That just felt wrong with how it was handled.

Ink and Bone
Image Source: Berkley

What Works

The characters in the series are good. I think that Jess is an interesting protagonist which is nice. Too many YA series give you a really flat main character. Or that main character who is too good at everything. Jess is good but he’s not always the best at anything. The cast of characters around him are good as well. Not more interesting than him, but as interesting, because often YA books have the side characters be more interesting. It’s also a diverse cast of characters in terms of gender, race, religion, and sexuality, but it’s done very naturally. So the story flows and feel real world like.

I also like books about books, so the library controlling everything is an interesting premise. It shows the twisting of the ideas of the library and how they have turned something that isn’t good. And it is done in a logical way, some books, Divergent, for example, creates a premise that doesn’t make any sense, it isn’t the logical end to any situation. But in The Great Library series, it makes sense, like I said, there are real world parallels with some areas of the world controlling knowledge.

And I like, generally the story progression, like I said, the third book loses me by spending too much time on generally the wrong things. It takes that cliffhanger and drags it out without feeling like we progress the story. But generally, Caine doesn’t do that. She also doesn’t information dump the history of everything or how the world and magic works in the world. You find that out as you need to find it out. In fact, you find out some of it as the characters find out about it. So it feels natural in how she is writing to how it works in the real world.

Final Thoughts On The Great Library

Obviously, I am not done with the series. There are five books in it, and that feels right for the series. Any longer and the story would drag out, and any shorter, say going the trilogy route, and the story would feel rushed. Maybe four books would have been ideal, because of my issues with book three. I own all the books, which says something about the series though. It means that it’s one that I might come back to.

I will say, that is my strong recommendation for this series. It’s well written, interesting enough premise, though not that unique, and compared to some others, such as Divergent which I would actively recommend people not read, I’d come back to this one gladly. If you want to read a well written YA series, this is going to be a solid one. It won’t likely blow you away, but it won’t likely disappoint either. If you’re not interested in reading YA, I wouldn’t recommend this series because it is what it is.

Have you read The Great Library Series by Rachel Caine? What are your thoughts on it?

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