11:00 am EST, July 8, 2018

Knowledge is power: 10 reasons to read The Great Library series

By Caitlin Kelly | Edited by Karen Rought

With the release of Rachel Caine’s Smoke and Iron, book 4 of the Great Library series, we’re looking at 10 reasons you should be reading these books.

A unique alternate history, Caine’s Great Library series takes place in a world in which The Great Library of Alexandria never burned. As a result, The Library became the greatest power in the world.

The Great Library of Alexandria was once one of the most important institutions of learning and research in the world … but not the only one. Dozens of massive libraries flourished before the invention of the printing press, and served key roles in preserving the accumulated knowledge of humanity. But one by one, their lights were snuffed out by wars, disasters, and religious zealotry.

But what if the Great Library had joined forces with those other great libraries, and survived? What would the world be like if all that ancient knowledge — and technology — survived? One thing we know for certain … human nature being what it is, power corrupts. And knowledge is power.

The first book of the series follows book smuggler Jess Brightwell. When he is sent to join the Library as a spy for his family of smugglers, he learns there is more to the Library than he could have imagined.

There are currently four books in the series — Ink and Bone, Paper and Fire, Ash and Quill and Smoke and Iron — with a fifth and final book expected in 2019. If you haven’t caught up with The Great Library, here are 10 reasons you should.

Books about books

For book lovers like me, books about books are some of my favorites. The Great Library series centers on the importance of books to the world, and most of the main characters appreciate books and knowledge in very Ravenclaw ways. Our protagonist, Jess, especially is a huge book lover.

The twist, of course, is that while the series focuses on the importance of books, The Library reveals itself to be corrupt — as the tagline says, knowledge is power. The Library holds control over all knowledge because they are the only one allowed to have original books. However, power corrupts and our heroes must reckon with the realization that The Library has become rotten.

A unique alternate history

Because The Library of Alexandria never burned, the world took a different path than the one we know today. There are certain familiar aspects of the world — we hear some familiar names like Johannes Gutenberg and Thomas Paine — but they figure into the alternate history in unique ways.

Some countries also do not exist in this world (the United States, for instance, is still colonized) while Egypt is a major power center due to the Library. It’s fascinating for recognizable historical figures or events to be mentioned in ways relevant to the new history.

Cool fantasy elements

Along with an alternate history, the series brings in some cool fantasy elements along with the changed world. The Library depends on a group of magic users called Obscurists to operate. However, that magic comes with a price.

They also have magical Kindles called blanks; rather than checking out actual copies of books, people have empty books connected to The Library, and any book they’d like is reflected in the empty pages. And then there are the fantastic creatures like Sphinxes that are turned into robots called automatons that act as guards, mixing fantasy and science.

A rootable cast

The main cast of the series revolves around the group of Postulants Jess joins upon entering the Library as well as their mentors. Each character, teen and adult alike, has their own strengths and weaknesses. They complement each other well, and we come to see them as a true family as their bonds are forged by the trials they face.

They are characters we want to follow in their adventures. They are worth learning more about and watching them develop and grow.


With characters that come from around the world, the cast of The Great Library series is incredibly diverse. For instance, Jess is English, Thomas is German, Khalila is Middle Eastern, Glain is Welsh, and Dario is Spanish. Khalila is Muslim and wears a hijab. And one of the main romantic couples in the series is between two men.

Adults who treat teens as equals

Scholar Christopher Wolfe and Captain Niccolo Santi are the main adult characters in the series. They are in charge of the Postulants’ training, and though Wolfe is bitter about teaching, he comes to respect and even care for his graduating students.

Once the main cast passes their training and become, at least on paper, equal to their mentors, they are treated as such. It’s refreshing to see adults treating teens as peers in a young adult series.

Twists and turns in the story

Little is as it seems in The Great Library series, and the books are full of twists and turns, both in terms of characters and narrative.

Moreover, the characters are allowed to make mistakes as well as grow and change from them. No one is perfect, which means sometimes bad choices are made — and that can lead the story in unexpected places. But the development of the characters from those choices is worth the journey.

Refusal to shy away from darkness

The world of The Great Library is a dystopia, and though the books are YA, they do not shy away from the horrors that can come from resisting such a regime. Characters are imprisoned, tortured and killed.

The Library has its own military force, the High Garda, and is not afraid to use it — or weapons of mass destruction — to retain its power. So when our rebels are on the run from Library forces, the danger they face if they are caught is real.

Settings all over the world

Used to your books being set in the United States? The main setting of the series is Egpyt, though the story moves to multiple global locations. Some time is spent in Philadelphia, but the books also visit England, Spain, and other areas around the world.

Evil twins and other machinations

Did I mention that Jess has a twin? His name is Brendan, and he’s not nearly the noble book lover that his brother is. Rather, he’s more interested in fitting into the family business of smuggling. But twins are still close, and there may or may not be some twin-switching.

The first four books of The Great Library series are available now! Make sure to get your copies today from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or find an indie bookstore near you. Oh, and don’t forget to add it on Goodreads!

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