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.

Ash and Quill by Rachel Caine

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

Author Information: Website | Twitter

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.

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Ink and Bone (Book 1)
Review of Paper and Fire (Book 2)

25 Comments on “Book Review: Ash and Quill by Rachel Caine”

  1. I’m leaning towards trying these based both on your reviews of the earlier ones and other things I’ve seen, they look really fun. Too bad the series got extended though maybe if that’s stretching the story too much or requiring filler? Anyway nice review, even with that flaw it still sounds like a great series.


  2. Pingback: Book Review: Ash and Quill by Rachel Caine — The BiblioSanctum | Fantasy Sources: Art, Gifts, Ideas, Article Resources, News

  3. Dang, and there I was, ALMOST ready to pull the trigger and read these books.
    Or not.

    From your reaction to the ending I’m guessing you’re going to read book 4 anyway. Do you plan on finishing the series?


  4. Your review convinced me that I made the right decision in quitting this series. :/ I enjoyed Ink & Bone quite a bit, and while I liked Paper & Fire for the most part, there were some aspects of it that annoyed me enough to either hold off on Book 3 or skip it altogether. Like you, I was never a fan of Jess and Morgan’s relationship, and to here that it frustrated you makes me certain it would have frustrated me, too.


    • Quitting is probably for the best, at least until the series is finished then reevaluate from there. The series is still good, but things have gone downhill since the first book. I’m hoping now that we’ve passed the midway point, things will start looking up again in the next one!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I read the first book and really planned on continuing on but just never made it a priority. Sorry the relationship aspect troubled you. I may skip out on the rest of this altogether. At least the covers are pretty!


  6. I’ve skipped over the “meat” of your review since Ash & Quill is already in my reading queue, but I took a look at your conclusions and have to agree: book 2 already showed some meandering tendencies and I’m not happy to learn that book 3 undergoes the same fate – if the series has now been extended to 5 books (I didn’t know that, and I’m learning it from your post) this might prove dangerous if the author does not have more substance to add to the story. Keeping my fingers crossed, but with some trepidation….

    Thanks for sharing! 🙂


  7. I agree with many of your points, particularly the fact that Philadelphia held huge potential for, well, lots of interesting things. I’m a bit frustrated that the series has been extended (it doesn’t usually bode well) but in this case, I may actually enjoy how things turn out over the next two books.


  8. I’ve only skimmed this because I haven’t yet started this series – I know! But, kind of disappointing that it’s going down in your esteem a little to be honest – and yes, I think the 3 to 5 books probably does have something to do with that although I hate to sound cynical – but the Warded Man springs to mind as an example of that very thing. On the other side of the coin I can understand if an author feels he has more to say – it’s just that sometimes it feels like things are being stretched a little and it’s not particularly working.
    I still want to read these books though.
    Lynn 😀


  9. Pingback: Mogsy’s Bookshelf Roundup: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads | The BiblioSanctum

  10. I just skimmed because I haven’t caught up with book 2 yet but I am disappointed to see that they’ve lengthened the series. If that’s based on author/story decisions, okay but when it’s about other things, it rarely improves the storytelling. Glad to hear there is still a lot of focus on character


  11. Pingback: Book Review: Smoke and Iron by Rachel Caine | The BiblioSanctum

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