Imagine a world where the Great Library of Alexandria still stands and Gutenberg’s press was suppressed leaving the great institution as the gatekeeper of the written word. That’s where Rachel Caine’s Great Library series is set. Oh and England is at war with Wales.

There is no place in the world for librarians who lack the will to defend books against wars, rebels, and Burners. Books cannot fight for themselves.

The way the Codex works is a sort of magical ereader, with the Library sending approved texts to a blank whenever the reader wants them. With physical books only circulating on the black market, this raises the concerns many had about a behemoth in charge of ebooks. That when the content and distribution falls to one organisation, they control and censor what people read. Texts can disappear at any moment or the words altered.

It also touches on privacy and ownership by giving every citizen a journal. This is personal and every child is encouraged to pour out their inner thoughts for the rest of their lives. When they die, the book becomes part of the Library. Can anything be truly private with a link to the library though? There are also burners, the terrorists of this world, who believe their words should die with them.

The destruction of Rayy taught us that calculated politics and unthinking rage – make no mistake, the two are sometimes hand in hand – are the greatest threats knowledge can face.

The story follows Jess Brightwell, the son of a book smuggler, who is sent to the Library to compete for a coveted position as a scholar. It is a bit slow to start, with the emphasis on world-building over characters in the first half. I’m not sure I ever really connected with Jess, but I loved some of the other characters and the whole concept is plenty of fun. It definitely picks up a lot near the end and there are loads of little snippets that are really quite relevant to our modern world. I already have the second book and I’ll definitely be giving it a go sometime.

The truth was what the Library wanted it to be.

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Book Source: Purchased