YA Weekend: Paper and Fire by Rachel Caine
A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Series: Book 2 of The Great Library
Publisher: NAL (July 5, 2016)
Length: 368 pages
I had a lot of books on my must-read list this year, but perhaps few were as highly anticipated as this follow-up to Ink and Bone, which was one of my favorite reads of 2015. Having learned from experience though, I approached Paper and Fire with realistic expectations despite the immense excitement of being able to visit the world of The Great Library again. The first book was just such a phenomenon for me, and I knew it would take a lot for the next installment to blow me away; hence I wasn’t surprise that I didn’t find Paper and Fire to be as good as Ink and Bone, but it was still nonetheless a fantastic sequel.
The story continues not long after we last saw Jess and his companions. As such, I highly recommend picking up the first book before checking out the sequel or reading my review, since the events of Paper and Fire are tied very closely to those in Ink and Bone. Jess has survived the brutal trials of being a Library postulant, and has since become assigned to the army. He and his friends are separated, and all of them are still individually grieving for the loss of one of their own. Jess also misses Morgan, the Obscurist girl he has come to care deeply for before she was apprehended and locked away in the Iron Tower—and he know he is partly to blame for her fate. Being a past runner for his family of book smugglers, Jess has long known the Great Library of Alexandria is not to be trusted, but he had never expected that its evils could run so deep.
And now, when faced with a chance to save one of their friends from the Library’s grasp, Jess, Glain, Dario, and Khalila are going to have to go against the great power of the Library Archivist and his legion of deadly automata. With the help of their former instructor Christopher Wolfe and the army captain Nic Santi, they devise a plan to infiltrate one of the Library’s darkest prisons, but can they manage to pull it off before the Archivist’s servants hunt them down and silence them?
It’s probably safe to say that Paper and Fire didn’t sweep me off my feet the same way Ink and Bone did, but I still had a great time with it. The first book had the advantage of introducing a brand new world to readers, and it’s always hard to beat that feeling when discovering everything for the first time when all you see is fresh and amazing. This sequel build upon the ideas that are already there, without expanding them much. It also had a much simpler plot when compared to the twisty, intricate storyline we got in Ink and Bone.
For one thing, much of the story in Paper and Fire can be boiled down to a rescue mission, but the characters spend a good amount of time hitting false starts and feeling around blindly for how to proceed. This book had a slight vibe of being hastily thrown together, with a lot of plot developments that seemed too convenient or went unexplained. I think part of this problem stems from the narrative limiting itself to Jess’s point-of-view, so we don’t get to see a lot of what happens “off-screen”. The Ephemera sections at the end of each chapter do show us some of what’s outside Jess’s sphere of influence, but I can’t help but feel this sequel might have been better served with at least one additional POV, like Morgan’s. She’s the first character to come to mind because plays a big role in the progression of this story, and yet so much of what she does is unclear, like how she manages to evade notice or capture when she secretly breaks out or communicates with Jess. Simply put, we just have to accept that all those events and others happened without us knowing the full details of why and how.
And speaking of Morgan and Jess, I was also never really on board with their romance, even when I was reading the first book. As characters go, I like them both very much, but they didn’t have the kind of chemistry I was looking for, and that weakness really came to the forefront in this book when they were separated for much of the time. Jess’s continued feelings for Morgan felt a bit forced, and in spite of the author’s efforts to rekindle that spark between them, I just couldn’t quite grasp it, probably because I never really felt there was any fire there in the first place.
These issues notwithstanding though, I don’t want to give the impression that I didn’t enjoy this book or that it is a poor sequel—because I did and it isn’t. Still, I won’t deny there’s some of that magic from the first book missing here, so maybe this one is simply suffering from a mild case of second book slump. I do love the ideas in this series and it was great seeing more of them, and it appears Rachel Caine is setting up for even more to come with that cliffhanger ending. The last twenty pages were a whirlwind of activity—a bit too rushed in my opinion, but oh so effective when it comes to building anticipation for book three. I’m definitely looking forward to the next installment!
More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Ink and Bone (Book 1)