Smuggler’s son Jess Brightwell and his band of troublemaking Scholars face danger again in this third installment (Paper and Fire, 2016, etc.).
After surviving the destruction of two cities, Jess and company are now prisoners of fanatical Burners in besieged Philadelphia. Once promising Scholars and soldiers, the group members—Jess, Obscurist Morgan Hault, escaped prisoner Thomas Schreiber, ex-Garda Glain Wathen, disgraced noble Dario Santiago, clever Scholar Khalila Seif, and former teachers Christopher Wolfe and Niccolo Santi—have become fugitives from the Great Library, whose corrupt leaders suppress knowledge and persecute innovators. Told from Everyman Jess’ cynical perspective and punctuated by “Ephemera” (confiscated or covert correspondence), this installment marks the beginning of a revolution, as idealistic intelligentsia lose innocence and hone lethal skills when they witness the Library’s atrocities and the Burners’ suicidal zealotry. The globe-trotting freedom fighters remain racially homogenous—aside from Muslim Khalila, most appear to be white—and secondary characters such as the Native Americans they encounter are exotically enigmatic. Allies if not friends, group members find the hardships deepen their relationships, and romantic couples—including a lovingly portrayed same-sex pair—consider terrible sacrifices. Caine’s semi-steampunk world blends fantasy and science fiction but also covers typical dystopian territory, albeit at a fairly literary level, with her trademark witty banter, dark humor, and abundant action sequences.
A strong ensemble adventure, grim, gritty, and genuinely enjoyable. (Fantasy. 14-adult)