The basic concept of what the world would be like if The Great Library of Alexandria was not destroyed really intrigued me. Set a few decades in the future in this alternate world books are practically gold. We follow Jess Brightwell, a boy raised in the book smuggling life. Working for The Library in any of the local libraries is a prized position and Jess is one of the hundreds vying for one of the six positions.
Jess has always been drawn to books and learning, constantly reading the books he’s supposed to smuggle. As typical criminal opportunists, the Brightwell’s force Jess to apply for the position to become the family’s inside man. From everything we see it’s clear why Jess wants to escape his cruel family. He is accepted to the next stage of application and arrives at Alexandra, the capital of The Library. There he joins other students in a rigorous competition under the strict eyes Scholar Wolfe, a truly terrifying man. I don’t know how they manage to deal with Wolfe, I would dissolve into a ball of tears. He’s the teacher from hell!
I love the cast of characters Jess meets during his training. Students from all over the world come to train for the Library, living in the share house together and the cast reflects this. There’s Khalia from the Middle East, the smartest of them all and I love how she’s complete with a hijab. Dario, the arrogant and entitled Spaniard, Thomas, the sweet German gifted with machinery, Glain, the sullen girl from Whales and many more. Dario’s arrogance really pissed me off at the beginning but he grew on me, especially his affections for Khalia even though she continues to reject him. By the end, the circumstances drew the two together. Thomas was my favourite, he’s sweet, a great friend and innocently curious about the world and how things work. Throughout the entire novel, I was dreading anything happening to him.
A few weeks in a new student arrives out of the blue, Morgan Hault from Oxford. After several students have been expelled over the weeks, the students are naturally bristly about a stranger arriving. To shock them even further, Wolfe allows her to stay. She’s a mystery and Jess is instantly intrigued. They grow closer and their feelings grow deeper, making things more complicated. I love their relationship. It’s gradual at first and develops naturally which I loved. They are definitely a couple I could cheer for.
The criminal element to Jess’ background added some great conflict. It was interesting how books were highly valued, even worth more than life at times. It took the old saying ‘knowledge is power’ to a whole new level, especially with The Library in control both through the books they collect and the power they process over society. It was sad how people would die to protect the books, even sacrificing others for books. It was sad how anyone not gifted academically or mechanically or simply not interested in reading were viewed as less important, particularly by their family. Everyone is encouraged to write in their personal journal which will one day be added to The Library. Though this ensures they will be remembered, it also has a much darker side that we learn about as the book progresses.
Society is very complex in this world. Everyone is raised to believe The Library is good and wants the best for the human race but some believe this to be all lies. The main rebel group is known as The Burners, people who believe that too much weight is placed on books. They can be very extreme, even burning themselves alive. I’m not usually interested in the politics of a book but I found it interesting what happened when books were held more important than human life.
This was a great book and I’m glad I got around to reading it. The ending had some great twists which I didn’t expect, some even had me tearing up. I give it 4/5 and I look forward to reading the rest of the series.