I can't believe I missed the release date for this book! I'd been hotly anticipating it since reading Ink and Bone earlier this year. And yet I didn't realize it was released until more than a week after the fact! Yikes. Well, I got my little paws on a copy and read it as quickly as humanly possible, and here's the verdict:
It was great.
I don't think it was quite as great as Ink and Bone, but I also don't think it suffered "second book syndrome" which can be a problem with series. The amazing world continues here, but I don't think it's quite as breathtaking was it was in the first book because it's already fairly well-established. There also isn't the same sense of awe from the characters due to their new circumstances and surroundings, which means that doesn't transfer to the reader as well. But the strange quirks of this world ruled by the Library of Alexandria--such as a Paris that is completely populated by Library personnel and French citizens who are forced to take part in historical reenactments of an uprising against the Library--are still dropped here and there, just enough to be a little disorienting and make it clear that no, this is not the world we know.
The plot of this book follows Jess and his friends, who are now employed in different positions throughout the Library in Alexandria, as they try to get information about Thomas and rescue him. Jess and Glain are recruits in the High Garda, and Dario and Khalila both work in scholarly roles. Morgan is trapped in the Iron Tower, slaving away as an Obscurist and struggling with the ever-present threat of forced impregnation, but she, too is determined to escape. (The "threat of forced impregnation" bit is very trope-y, but I think Caine actually handled it well, with many of the Tower's inhabitants, male and female, being against the "program" and others being for it for both logistical reasons like more Obscurists and for more cult-like reasons. I was so pleased when Caine (briefly) brought in the guy in this scenario, who was clearly just as agonized over it as Morgan was, rather than depicting this as some male-wet-dream-type thing. Forced sex is not cool for either gender.) Our group also gets on the move once again here, eventually traveling from Alexandria to Rome and beyond in their quest and its aftermath. The settings remain breathtaking, with the Iron Tower offering a tantalizing glimpse at what the Library has been hiding for all these millennia, with Rome still showing its pagan roots and using them to hide the Library's nefarious actions, and of course with all the trappings that come with these settings, like the automata, which gain an even more prominent (and, yes, awesome) role in this book than they did in the first.
I'll be honest: a big part of this book hinges on Jess' love for Morgan and his desire to help her, which I totally didn't buy. I mean, I bought the wanting to help her part, but their relationship honestly doesn't have any chemistry to it, and they feel more like friends, like Jess and Thomas, than potential lovers. I found the bonds of friends and mentors here much more believable than the romantic ones, though Dario and Khalila and Wolfe and Santi did feel much more natural and complete than Jess and Morgan did. And again, I think this was an incredibly diverse and awesome cast that were not diverse for the sake of it, but who also weren't painted in as being stereotypes or representations of whole groups. They're all people, and I think that really works.
Caine's writing in this remained very engaging, but really, it's the world and the thoughts behind it that intrigue me here. The ongoing discussion about censorship and the power of free thought and speech and press, and how a loss of that can change things, is absolutely fascinating, and it's thrilling to see this discussion being played out in a young-adult-genre novel. It makes you think. Who is our Library, what are they really doing? (I'm not a conspiracy theory fan, I swear, but I think this book is very thought-provoking in this area.) And, of course, I'm super psyched about where this is headed, because while we have, so far, seen cities in several countries across Europe and Egypt, we haven't yet seen America, which has historically had a basis of the freedoms I've mentioned above, or at least we think that we do, so I'm fascinated with how Caine is going to tackle a Library-influenced America in the upcoming volumes.
This was another great book. I don't think it was quite as twisty and breathtaking as the first, because it doesn't have quite the same newness, and there were some weirdnesses in logic here (especially with Dario and the High Garda and the Iron Tower; the whole thing just didn't seem to "fit" to me) but I still devoured this and eagerly await the next volume.
4 stars out of 5.