The opening moves of a deadly game have begun. Jess Brightwell has put himself in direct peril, with only his wits and skill to aid him in a game of cat and mouse with the Archivist Magister of the Great Library. With the world catching fire, and words printed on paper the spark that lights rebellion, it falls to smugglers, thieves, and scholars to save a library thousands of years in the making…if they can stay alive long enough to outwit their enemies.
**I ONLY USE A 5-STAR SYSTEM**
It’s no secret, I found the third book in this series quite frustrating. It was a necessary book, it had to happen, but that doesn’t mean I loved it like I loved the first two. I finished book three desperately hoping book four would come back swinging for the fences . . . . HOLY WOW!! Book four doesn’t just swing for the fences, it knocked it right the hell out of the ballpark!!!!!
Characters: If you have followed me for any length of time, you know I am a character-driven reader. Good characters can carry a book for me, and they certainly did in this read. EVERY character in this book, whether major or minor showed growth, for better or worse. What I particularly loved about the characters in this read is the intricacy of the relationships. The core group, even when they were separated from one another, never wavered in their commitment to one another and/or their cause. Even when separated and confused by anothers’ actions, the core group understood one another, supported one another, and worked with the knowledge that everyone else was working toward the same goal. This type of faith doesn’t happen without real relationships, friendships, and I could feel those connections through every action, every line of dialogue, and every action!
Outside of the core group are a host of minor characters who should not be easily ignored and/or dismissed. Though there are a ton of characters in this series, each one of them has a significant role to play. There is a complex web of connections and associations in this series that is absolutely fascinating and masterfully crafted. Some of the characters may make only a brief appearance, and their significance may not be immediately recognized, but there is a purpose in their appearance. I love this sort of weaving, this teasing, this incredible cast of characters who have kept me constantly guessing over the entirety of the series.
Plot: WOW!!! I adore the arrangement of this book and how it perfectly served the plot in this installment of the series. For the first time, Caine has broken the chapters into episodes of each character’s life, their individual perspective in the moment. This type of storytelling gave each character a voice in the moment, a perspective the others weren’t always privy to, but gave the reader an overview of everyone and everything. This worked so very well for this story because most of the core group were separated from one another and quite literally in different parts of the world. This type of storytelling allowed for a great amount of information to be disseminated, a ton of plot development to occur, and character evolution to take place. With every twist and turn, and there are an enormous amount of twists and turns, the commitment of the group to one another is reinforced, their loyalty to one another and their cause is reinforced, and their cleverness, courage, and bravery shine through. I read this book in just two sittings because it was so hard to put this book down! This plot is as cleverly crafted as the characters and their relationships, and I was absolutely crazy to find out what happens next. For the record, what happened next, blew my mind . . . every time!!!
The Bottom Line: Y’all, I can’t even get over myself and how much I LOVED this book!! This is what contemporary fiction should be: enlightening, engaging, interesting, riveting, dangerous, socially aware, well written, cleverly crafted, populated with fierce, real characters. Smoke and Iron is all that, and a whole host of other adjectives that elude me at the time of this writing. This is a series I sincerely feel should appeal to a wide variety of readers at a variety of age levels. This is a complicated, complex read that will keep you flipping pages at high speed. With magic, danger, action, intelligence, a variety of characters and character types, this series has a bit of everything for everyone. If you haven’t discovered The Great Library series, do it now! You will not be disappointed.
It had all started as an exercise to fight the unending boredom of being locked in this Alexandrian prison cell.
When Jess Brightwell woke up, he realized that he’d lost track of time. Days blurred here, and he knew it was important to remember how long he’d been trapped, waiting for the axe to fall—or not. So he diligently scratched out a record on the wall using a button from his shirt.
Five days. Five days since he’d arrived back in Alexandria, bringing with him Scholar Wolfe and Morgan Hault as his prisoners. They’d been taken off in different directions, and he’d been dumped here to—so they’d said—await the Archivist’s pleasure.
The Archivist, it seemed, was a very busy man.
Once Jess had the days logged, he did the mental exercise of calculating the date, from pure boredom. It took him long, uneasy moments to realize why that date—today—seemed important.
And then he remembered and was ashamed it had taken him so long.
Today was the anniversary of his brother Liam’s death. His elder brother.
And today meant that Jess was now older than Liam had ever lived to be.
He couldn’t remember exactly how Liam had died. Could hardly remember his brother at all these days, other than a vague impression of a sharp nose and shaggy blondish hair. He must have watched Liam walk up the stairs of the scaffold and stand as the rope was fixed around his neck.
But he couldn’t remember that, or watching the drop. Just Liam, hanging. It seemed like a painting viewed at a distance, not a memory.
Wish I could remember, he thought. If Liam had held his head high on the way to his death, if he’d gone up the steps firmly and stood without fear, then maybe Jess would be able to do it, too. Because that was likely to be in his future.
He closed his eyes and tried to picture it: the cell door opening. Soldiers in High Garda uniforms, the army of the Great Library, waiting stone- faced in the hall. A Scholar to read the text of his choice to him on the way to execution. Perhaps a priest, if he asked for one.
But there, his mind went blank. He didn’t know how the Archivist would end his life. Would it be a quiet death? Private? A shot in the back? Burial without a marker? Maybe nobody would ever know what had become of him.
Or maybe he’d end up facing the noose after all, and the steps up to it. If he could picture himself walking without flinching to his execution, perhaps he could actually do it.
He knew he ought to be focusing on what he would be saying to the Archivist if he was called, but at this moment, death seemed so close he could touch it, and besides, it was easier to accept failure than to dare to predict success. He’d never been especially superstitious, but imagining triumph now seemed like drawing a target on his back. No reason to offend the Egyptian gods. Not so early.
He stood up and walked the cell. Cold, barren, with bars and a flat stone shelf that pretended at being a bed. A bare toilet that needed cleaning, and the sharp smell of it was starting to squirm against his skin.
If I had something to read . . . The thought crept in without warning, and he felt it like a personal loss. Not having a book at hand was a worse punishment than most. He was trying not to think about his death, and he was too afraid to think about the fate of Morgan or Scholar Wolfe or anything else . . . except that he could almost hear Scholar Wolfe’s dry, acerbic voice telling him, If only you had a brain up to the task, Brightwell, you’d never lack for something to read.
Jess settled on the stone ledge, closed his eyes, and tried to clearly imagine the first page of one of his favorite books. Nothing came at his command. Just words, jumbled and frantic, that wouldn’t sort themselves in order. Better if he imagined writing a letter.
Dear Morgan, he thought. I’m trapped in a holding cell inside the Serapeum, and all I can think of is that I should have done better by you, and all of us. I’m afraid all this is for nothing. And I’m sorry. I’m sorry for being stupid enough to think I could outwit the Archivist. I love you. Please don’t hate me.
That was selfish. She should hate him. He’d sent her back into the Iron Tower, a life sentence of servitude and an unbreakable collar fastened tight around her neck. He’d deceived Scholar Wolfe into a prison far worse than this one, and an inevitable death sentence. He’d betrayed everyone who’d ever trusted him, and for what?
For cleverness and a probably foolish idea that he could somehow, somehow, pull off a miracle. What gave him the right to even think it?
That was the sound of a key turning in a heavy lock.
Jess stood, the chill on his back left by the ledge still lingering like a ghost, and then he came to the bars as the door at the end of the hall opened. He could see the hinges move and the iron door swinging in. It wasn’t locked again when it closed. Careless.
He listened to the decisive thud of footsteps against the floor, growing louder, and then three High Garda soldiers in black with gold emblems were in front of his cell. They stopped and faced him. The oldest—his close-cut hair a stiff silver brush around his head—barked in common Greek, “Step back from the bars and turn around.”
Jess’s skin felt flushed, then cold; he swallowed back a rush of fear and felt his pulse race in a futile attempt to outrun the inevitable. He followed the instructions. They didn’t lock the outer door. That’s a chance, if I can get by them. He could. He could sweep the legs out from under the first, use that off-balance body to knock back the other two, pull a sidearm free from one of them, shoot at least one, maybe two of them. Luck would dictate whether he’d die in the attempt, but at least he’d die fighting.
I don’t want to die, something in him that sounded like a child whispered. Not like Liam. Not on the same day.
And suddenly, he remembered.
The London sky, iron gray. Light rain had been falling on his child’s face. He’d been too short to see his brother ascend anything but the top two steps of the scaffold. Liam had stumbled on the last one, and a guard had steadied him. His brother had been shivering and slow, and he hadn’t been brave after all. He’d looked out into the crowd of those gathered, and Jess remembered the searing second of eye contact with his brother before Liam transferred that stare to their father.
Jess had looked, too. Callum Brightwell had stared back without a flicker of change in his expression, as if his eldest son was a stranger.
They’d tied Liam’s hands. And put a hood over his head.
A voice in the here and now snapped him out of the memory. “Against the wall. Hands behind your back.”
Jess slowly moved to comply, trying to assess where the other man was … and froze when the barrel of a gun pressed against the back of his neck. “I know what you’re thinking, son. Don’t try it. I’d rather not shoot you for stupidity.”
The guard had a familiar accent— aised near Manchester, most likely. His time in Alexandria had covered his English roots a bit, but it was odd, Jess thought, that he might be killed by one of his countrymen, so far from home. Killed by the English, just like Liam.
Once a set of Library restraints settled around his wrists and tightened, he felt strangely less shaken. Opportunity was gone now. All his choices had been narrowed to one course. All he had to do now was play it out.
Jess turned to look at the High Garda soldier. A man with roots from another garden, maybe one closer to Alexandria; the man had a darker complexion, dark eyes, a neat beard, and a compassionate but firm expression on his face. “Am I coming back?” he asked, and wished he hadn’t.
“Likely not,” the soldier said. “Wherever you go next, you won’t be back here.”
Jess nodded. He closed his eyes for a second and then opened them. Liam had faltered on the stairs. Had trembled. But at the end his elder brother had stood firm in his bonds and hood and waited for death without showing any fear.
He could do the same.
Rachel Caine’s rich, diverse bibliography of more than 45 books in print covers many categories and genres. She started out writing horror and fantasy as Roxanne Longstreet (Stormriders, The Undead, Red Angel, Cold Kiss, Slow Burn) before switching to the name Roxanne Conrad and publishing romantic suspense and mystery (Copper Moon, Bridge of Shadows, Exile). By 2003, she began to publish under her current pseudonym, specializing in urban fantasy, science fiction, and paranormal young adult fiction. She has been writing original fiction since the age of fourteen, and professionally published since 1991. She graduated from Socorro High School in El Paso Texas (where she was a UIL all-state champion in music and journalism) and went on to earn an accounting degree from Texas Tech University. She played professionally as a musician for several years once out of college, but ultimately gave up the music for writing. She’s had a varied “day job” career, including web design, graphic arts, accounting, payroll management, insurance investigation, and (most recently) corporate communications and crisis management. (It all counts as research.) Rachel loves reading, writing, and mild amounts of arithmetic when required … but she has a special place in her heart for history, music, and science, and you’ll find those themes in many of her works. A full bibliography and press kit is available here as a PDF. (Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader)
**All information in this section is from the author’s website**