3 out of 5 stars
A historical fiction series built on an all-powerful library and book-related magic sounds like exactly my thing. Which is why I wanted a lot more from this story.
Ash and Quill picks up deep into The Great Library’s arc, it’s not a series you can pick up in the middle. This installment finds reluctant criminal-turned-soldier-turned criminal again Jess Brightwell and his band of unlikely Library friends on the run from everyone: the Library itself, which is more like a totalitarian religious order that governs the world, the Burner, who despise the Library’s stranglehold on knowledge, and maybe even the smugglers/underworld, whose criminal enterprise is based on the very scarcity of books the Library demands.
Main character Jess is scrappy and strong-willed. The colorful cast includes a warrior girl, a Muslim, a Spanish dandy, a Scholar and his army captain lover, a gentle giant, and an Obscurist – a sorceress whose greatest power lies in manipulating books (a.k.a. the coolest superpower ever). They’re well-drawn and likable, each carrying different emotional notes within the story. The world is almost post-apocalyptic, if at the end of the world, libraries ruled. What a world, right? Not with this Library. It controls, limits, and even enslaves, all with an iron fist.
Yet the story doesn’t quite catch fire. All the components are there: love, death, knowledge, freedom. Yet Ash and Quill, and the other two Great Library installments, are just good, not great. They lack umph, for lack of a better phrase. Perhaps the conflict is too predictable: how many monstrous government/religious institutions have we fought? How many megalomaniacs thwarted, how many bands of feisty upstarts cheered? It doesn’t mean we’re over that story (thank God, because it’s every YA novel ever). It just means the unjust world, the bad guy and the heroes have to be outstanding. They have to be fresh, and elevate beyond the overstuffed roll call of the YA genre. The Great Library gets close… and that makes it a shade more disappointing than if it missed entirely.
Trained by YA trilogies galore, I assumed Ash and Quill would be the end of this series. It’s most certainly not. Instead it leaves off in shameless media res, with that almost arrogant flourish of a book deal already signed. (There will be 5 total, according to Goodreads.) In this case, I’m glad. The Great Library has more to give – both in story and substance. Perhaps we’ll find it in books four and five.