Monday, July 2, 2018

Review: Smoke and Iron

Title: Smoke and Iron
Author: Rachel Caine
Series: The Great Library
Volume: 4
Genre: Fantasy, Alternate History Speculative Fiction
Release Date: July 3, 2018
Goodreads   Chapters    Amazon

eGalley received through NetGalley

In a desperate move, Jess gambled the lives of those he cares about on his ability to lie- and to pass himself off as his twin. Now Jess is separated from his friends, facing (almost literally) the jaws of the lion as he attempts to work to take down the Archivist from inside the Library. His gamble has landed Wolfe in a Library prison, Morgan in the Iron Tower, the rest of his closet friends are on a ship, being transported to face judgement as traitors. Jess finds himself, and his mission, at risk of failure as he tries to maneuver himself and is friends into position and as the position of the Library itself grows more and more tenuous and the rebellion gathers steam.

Out of Ten: 8/10

Review at a Glance: A fantastic continuation of The Great Library series that builds tension and manages several different plot threads and points of view throughout.

Review: Okay, so here we are again! When last we left Jess, he'd just risked the lives of just about everyone on a gamble that was... his best possible option, of a host of bad options. It divides his core group into four separate streams that are barely able to communicate with each other (if at all). Morgan and Wolfe are both in their own prisons, and we get to see from both of their points of view, as well as Khalila's over the course of most of the book (as well as snippets of a few others). 

Something that I really like about this series is the sense of scale. The world is a BIG place, and everyone that the members of the core group meet holds a stake in what's happening. This rebellion is rapidly moving well beyond what Jess's band of friends and allies is able to control, or even be fully aware of. They're spread too thin, they've been kind of slap-and-dash throwing plans together as they face situation after situation in quick succession and haven't really had time to regroup and come up with a cohesive plan of vision as to what they're even going to be aiming for in terms of bringing down the power the Library holds, while also avoiding a power vacuum. Because they aren't trying to burn the Library to the ground and destroy everything about it, they're trying to save it from itself and the corruption that has taken root in it over the centuries. This is one of the bigger conflicts within the series, and a point where Khalila, with her combination of idealism and determined calm, really starts to flourish. As a long-term fan, I was pretty delighted. This plotline was something that also felt refreshingly nuanced as someone who has read A LOT of books where the approach to a damaged system is to just. Totally destroy it with no plan for managing the chaos that rises from the complete loss of order. (Granted: different situations require different approaches. I'm with our main characters on their approach to their situation: a burn-it-all-to-the-ground approach would have some VERY messy fallout and leave a power vacuum at risk of being filled by something even worse that what they're trying to rid themselves of.)

If you've seen any of my other reviews (they're linked below for anyone interested) you'll know that one of the sticking points for me with these books is my complete inability to become invested in Morgan as a character and... that remains true to a degree, even having seen from her point of view a lot more. I do like her more than I did in the previous books, though, so there's that at least. She's a bit more fleshed out here, once we've gotten an insight into her head. Her plotline was the one that felt the most like it was going around in circles and was the most interesting for me to read, especially with everything that was going on in Khalila and Jess's points of view. I feel like I keep... waiting... for something to click and that just doesn't happen. I think, compared to the other characters, she still feels kind of static, although I think seeing from her point of view definitely helped that.

Wolfe's point of view was not one I was expecting to get (him being an adult character and this series being YA), but it did offer some insight into exactly what a dangerous situation Jess had thrust them all into- Wolfe was out of communication and basically unaware of the plan. Much of his storyline is more builds tension as Wolfe tries to decide whether or not he can put his faith in a plan he knows nothing of, and I did like the insight into his head as he does his best to handle being back in a prison, much like the one that nearly broke him when he was younger. It also expands a bit more on his character, which is always nice.

Jess's point of view, along with Khalila's, carries most of the action as he frantically tries to gather information and organise people within the Library's home city of Alexandria. Over the course of this book we see how tenuous the plan that Jess has in place is and how he is in very nearly over his head- and the consequences that his miscalculations have. 

This series handles a vast cast of characters with clear character traits and ideals, and their relationships with one another. Even within the core group, those relationships are constantly shifting. Especially in this book, after Jess has broken the trust of several members of his group- most especially Santi, as Jess's plan got Wolfe captured again. The book takes time to build relationships in a way that I find I really like, and for me they pull the story along quite as much as the plot does. There's such a great diversity in character dynamics throughout the book and I really like that I find almost everything these characters do to be believable, but not always expected.

Overall, this was a great book that escalates the story and continues to increase the complexity of the politics surrounding the story. If this series is a five-act play, this books is definitely the rising action, building tension to a climax, and leaving our main characters facing still more, and possibly greater, challenges in the final book which I, for one, am eager to read. 

My reviews of the rest of the series so far:


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