Book Review: Ash and Quill by Rachel Caine
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Series: Book 3 of The Great Library
Publisher: Berkley (July 11, 2017)
Length: 368 pages
To be clear, I still love this series, but I’d be lying if I said my enthusiasm for it hasn’t cooled somewhat. As enjoyable as these last two installments were, I’m just not seeing the same caliber of storytelling that we got in the first book. How much of this is due to the fact The Great Library recently became a three-book series to a five-book one, I don’t know, but I suspect that not-insignificant change may have played a role. The story is still moving forward, but seemingly with more filler than usual in this one.
As the third novel in the sequence, Ash and Quill picks up immediately from the end of Paper and Fire, so if you haven’t started this series yet, keep in mind there may be possible spoilers for the first two books in this review. After fleeing from London and narrowly escaping the Archivist’s forces, Jess Brightwell and his fellow exiles find themselves in Philadelphia, a city run by the rebels known as the Burners. Believing them to be the agents of the Great Library though, the Burners capture Jess and his group and threaten to kill them all unless Thomas, the genius inventor of the group, agrees to build the rebels a working printing press. A deal is struck in order to buy time for our protagonist to figure out how to save his friends, but with the chaos descending upon the city, Jess knows that they can’t stay in the Americas and must quickly find their way back across the ocean in search of more allies.
First, the good: I like how each book is bringing more to the table in terms of character development, adding layers to established personalities and relationships. This is where Ash and Quill really shines. While the story is punctuate with occasional bursts of action, I generally preferred the quieter moments where we got to see the characters interact and find out more about their origins and family life. Who knew Dario came from such an illustrious family, for example? Like Jess, I still don’t really trust the guy, but we’re starting to see more of Dario’s deeper, more considerate side break through the cockiness, especially in his scenes with Khalila. As one of the few adult characters, Wolf continues to be my favorite, and I really appreciated this book giving his relationship with Santi some extra attention. Jess also gets some time to reflect upon his role as a brother and a son, deciding once and for all what to do about his future place in the family business, and I’m looking forward to seeing how this conflict will resolve.
Now, for the things that weren’t so good (and I’d like to warn everyone in advance that this is going to sound more negative than I intend), I honestly thought this book wasted a lot of time. Many scenes were padded with what I felt was unnecessary description, and there was constant repetition when it comes to Jess’ internal thoughts and dialogue. I was also slightly disappointed that we didn’t get to see more of Philadelphia. Such a bummer when we finally get to follow the characters to a different city—an exotic place, in their eyes—and they end up spending most of their time there as prisoners listening to their Burner captors rant and rave. I feel there was a missed opportunity here to show a more multifaceted picture of a place that was in full revolt against the Great Library, but instead we barely got to scratch the surface.
Ironically, I’m also enjoying all the romances and relationships in this series except the one between Jess and Morgan. Granted, they’ve had a rough time of it from the start, with one or both of them either being on the run or in prison at any given time, but I really think the ship has sailed to really make me feel any chemistry or care about them as a couple. They feel all wrong for each other, especially with the darker truth behind Morgan’s powers emerging, so any attempt to bring her and Jess closer together just feels very awkward to me at this point.
Again, I know I’m sounding very critical of this novel, but I assure you that I had fun and enjoyed it—just not as much as Ink and Bone and perhaps merely a teensy tiny little bit less than Paper and Fire. Would I still recommend this series though? You bet. The overall story arc is exciting, and like the previous book, this one also ends on a cliffhanger that had me wailing, “Nooooo, things just can’t end like this, not yet, not yet!” Parts of this might have been slow, but when things do get tense, Rachel Caine sure knows how to keep you on the edge of your seat. Her talent as a writer is what keeps me clamoring for more, and I can’t wait to see where she’ll take us with the next book.