I recently read Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine, and I’ll have more to say about it in a bit (I loved it). Now, I want to mention one thing that delighted me absolutely – the book is set a wee bit in the future, in 2025. I was downright grateful for that. As to why that was so delightful, it leads to rant about the love affair too many authors have with the Victorian era, whether they can honestly say their book is steampunk or not. And even if a book is steampunk, or has steampunk elements, that doesn’t mean it must be trapped in Victorian times. I’ve now read enough books set in Victorian London that it’s time to say Goodbye, Victoria. I just can’t take any more. Not only has Victorian London become a mostly snore-worthy bore, with some authors, it’s much worse than that.
A while back, Mark Morris’s Obsidian Heart books were recommended to me. Oy. I made it through the first book, and most of the second before I gave up. It’s a pity you can’t toss a tablet against the wall in frustration. It seems that with some authors, the setting of Victorian London is attractive because the book can be bulked out with one description after another of how filthy everything is. How ugly everything is. How ugly everyone is. How much everything and everyone smells. How bad teeth are. How bad breath is. All the stuff in the gutter, in minute detail. And on it goes. If you removed all the descriptors, there would be very little book left. I know, the legacy of Dickens and all that, but providing a realistic atmosphere can be done well, that’s part of good world building. When I end up with a book which is three-quarters “how awful/icky this that and the other is”, it’s not done right. I might have been able to overlook (and skim) this relentless detail in the Obsidian Heart books, if the second one hadn’t gone full tilt one seriously implausible situation after another, with these implausibilities magically explained by…time travel! This was the “oh, it’s my tablet, can’t fling it at the wall” moment. This series may well be someone’s cuppa tea, but they aren’t mine.
Now, Ink and Bone, by Rachel Caine. I fell for the premise immediately, I love books about books, like Jim C. Hines’s fabulous Magic ex Libris series (Revisionary is out! There goes the rest of my day). In the Great Library series, the Great Library at Alexandria was never destroyed, and it has become the greatest power in the world. It is against library law to own books. People have blanks, something like a tablet, in which books may be read. Naturally, there are book smugglers, and there are those who fight against the library, generally in a destructive but ineffective manner. The first book follows six young people who have been accepted to the library as postulants, and their discovery that the library is long corrupt, ruled by fear of change and progress. There are direct parallels to world religions, who are also ruled by fear of change. The safety of any of the main characters is not sacrosanct, it’s clear that anyone can die, or have worse happen to them. The world building is vivid and good, if a bit lacking in information here and there. I’m looking forward to the next book, Paper and Fire, which will be out in July.