Stars: 4 out of 5.
Mark Lawrence delivers an epic story once again. I loved his book of the Ancestors series, but wasn’t impressed with his Prince of Thorns series. One thing for sure though, he knows how to build fascinating worlds and create memorable characters.
Here, we follow two protagonists whose stories, at first glance, have nothing to do with each other, but who prove to be intertwined at the most intimate level. Evar has been trapped in the Library his whole life. All he’s ever knows are stone walls, mountains of books, his four siblings, and the mysterious Mechanism that allows whoever enters it with a book to live inside that book. But Evar can’t help but feel like he is missing something, or someone very important to him that the Mechanism made him forget. Livira is a child of the desert and desolation who was brought into the Library after a disaster befell her home. Her situation there is precarious, but she is smart and tenacious, like the weed she is named after.
It was interesting to try and puzzle out how the two stories are connected. Or why Evar is trapped inside the library with no way of getting out. It was also rewarding to follow Livira’s journey of self-discovery. Despite all the odds stacked against her, she managed not only to stay in the Library, but also discover more of its secrets than anyone ever had. I liked the fact that the Library exists not only across different worlds, but also across all timelines.
The main themes in this book also hit rather close to home – the intolerance, humanity’s tendency to divide people into “my tribe” and “the enemy”. The subjugation and hatred of anybody that is different. It was interesting to see how the Library could be used to bridge a gap between cultures and species, if only someone made the effort to do that.
While I really liked this story, I thought the book dragged a bit in the middle. The action slowed. Things were happening to our protagonists, but there wasn’t a clear purpose to it. I got a bit bored. The ending though more than compensated for that.
My bigger issue is that even though we are told that Livira’s situation is precarious, and there are several attempts on her life throughout the book, I never had a feeling that she really was in danger. Probably because the author uses the convenient time skip when things are about to come to a head, or she is about to face the consequences of her actions, and we only learn of what happened when it’s already been 3-4 or five years down the road. The book would have had more impact if we had seen Livira get hurt, or punished, or actually BE in danger before the end of the book, instead of just told about it after the fact.
I would also have loved to learn more about the city beyond the Library, and the wider world in general, but I understand that this is only book 1 of a trilogy, and the whole series concentrates around the Library, so it’s normal that we spend most of our time there.
PS: I received an advanced copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.