Smoke and Iron is the fourth book in The Great Library series, a YA fantasy-adventure series written by Rachel Caine. The story is a set in an alternative historical world where the Library at Alexandria is never destroyed and in modern times becomes the most powerful organization in the world by hoarding the world’s information, controlling technological advances and prohibiting the private ownership of books.
The world of The Great Library is very different from our own. The fastest means of transportation is by train or boat, although there is also a near-magical way of moving people that resembles teleportation but is somewhat dangerous. They also have automata which are more advanced than any robots that we currently have, but these automata are basically weapons of control (in the forms of large, deadly animals like lions or dragons). Instead of books they have "blanks" which electronically (and wirelessly) can be sent the content of (approved) books but the content is removed after a certain amount of time. They are sorta like Amazon Kindles except none of the content is really ever yours to own.
The main character of the series is Jess Brightwell, who is one of a group of teenagers that this YA fantasy is centered around. Other members of the group include Jess’s twin Brendan, Khalila, Thomas, Dario, Morgan and Glain. They are all people who started the series as apprentice Scholars of the Library in Book 1 (Ink and Bone) and who now have become fugitives and its declared enemies. Between then and now they discovered that the Archivist, the head of the Library, is an evil, power-hungry man and the rationales that they have been told for why the Library seeks complete control over information and knowledge are false. The Library has been using its forces to hunt down our heroes and kill them, to stop them from spreading the "heresy" that information should be freely available, and alerting people to the existence of the printing press, which would allow anyone to create their own books.
In Smoke and Iron the overarching story of the series has basically calcified into a power struggle between our talented teenage heroes and the forces of the Library. The highlights of this book in particular are its pacing and action scenes. Basically I’m still reading the series because I am invested in what will happen to the characters, especially Jess and Morgan, who are a (straight) couple and Scholar Christopher Wolfe and Captain Niccolo Santi (a gay couple). I also am curious to see how the evil Library will be either destroyed or reformed. The premise is a good one and the books are enjoyably diverting; the entire enterprise would work rather well as an animated TV series or a teen-oriented movie trilogy.
OVERALL RATING: 3.5 STARS.
Title: Smoke and Iron.
Author: Rachel Caine.
Paperback: 448 pages.
Publisher: Berkley Books.
Date Published: July 3, 2018.
Date Read: June 10, 2019.
GOODREADS RATING: ★★★½☆ (3.5/5.0).
OVERALL GRADE: B+ (3.3/4.0).