A boy has lived his whole life trapped within a vast library, older than empires and larger than cities.
A girl has spent hers in a tiny settlement out on the Dust where nightmares stalk and no one goes.
The world has never even noticed them. That’s about to change.
Their stories spiral around each other, across worlds and time. This is a tale of truth and lies and hearts, and the blurring of one into another. A journey on which knowledge erodes certainty, and on which, though the pen may be mightier than the sword, blood will be spilled and cities burned.
Hello again dear reader or listener, as always, I hope you are doing well and have something excellent to read.
First of all I would like to thank Ace for the free eARC copy I was sent in exchange for an honest review, which, as usual, does not impact my words in any way.
You’ll have noticed there are a lot of Lawrence fans among our FFA circus of peculiars and, as someone who hadn’t really read his work yet, I can finally say I see why. A young (and perhaps too young) Eleni once read Prince of Thorns in translation and she didn’t keep any memory of it other than a few fleeting scenes and the overall sense that it was dark. Also, I’m pretty sure the translation work wasn’t great in itself so I fully intend to try that series again now that I’m a more mature reader and have access to original language copies.
However, I recently read Lawrence’s During the Dance short story and I found it incredibly beautiful. So, that, plus the intriguing premise of this book got me hooked!
Now, full disclosure, this was a book I greatly enjoyed and I’ll get to all the reasons why in a minute, but I’ll also say I struggled with it a little at times. For the first half, mainly because of a strictly personal pet peeve which is repetition. For one of the two povs in particular, there were several instances of concepts being recaped in a way that felt as if I was being given a “previously on” segment almost every other chapter. Thankfully that eventually petered out though.
The other thing that slowed me down considerably was something that isn’t necessarily a downfall but more of something to keep in mind if you’re a reader who likes some prep about what they’re getting into like me. This novel was dense in lack of a better word. While it didn’t really impede the flow of his narrative all that much, Lawrence goes heavy with the mapping out the structure of this timeless library and some of the magic that works through it. It makes for an undoubtedly immersive experience and honestly, if I’d had an actual map to reference, I’d love it even more. But as it was, I often found myself needing to slow down and maybe even reread a few passages to make sense of everything and give me some direction. At times, I even had to go back to reread those expositions simply because my impatient brain wanted to conclude a moment of plot faster than this slight meandering in the world building allowed. Everything has its place though and I recognize how necessary it all was for the first book in a trilogy, so as to set the proper foundations for the whole series.
This too is something that didn’t last the entire book luckily, but with the depth and breadth of everything going on plot wise until the very end, I also wouldn’t class this novel as an “easy” read you can afford to go through with any distractions or in short quick reads of say one chapter at a time here and there throughout a day. This is the kind of story you want to set aside hours of your day for, to sit and focus on fully, completely forgetting the drink or snack you’d brought with you to have while reading. Might even need to take some notes to keep stuff straight in your head hahaha.
All that said, Lawrence does a truly incredible job with controlling the flow of information and details the reader is privy to, masterfully winding and weaving his plot and its various timelines, in such a manner that although the twists and reveals impact you fully, they do so in a way that makes perfect sense. You feel guided to it rather than blindsided, essentially realizing this whole time you’ve been on the trail with all the answers but you hadn’t been able to see the true winding shape of it until you’d reached the top of the mountain and looked back down. This lead to a lot of Aha! or Holy Crap!? moments for me and I thoroughly enjoyed it all, doing my best to rush to the end to find all the answers, and only wishing I could read faster.
The other thing I loved in this novel was how deeply I came to care for the two protagonists but also for several of the side characters however short their time on the page was. Lawrence got me so invested in each of them, so much that I felt a lot of what Livira and Evar felt right alongside with them. Evar especially. That young man needs a hug. Or several. Seeing Livira grow up throughout the chapters was such a fun treat as well, because while we see her mature as she grows, all that makes her who she is remains very much the same fire that kept me entertained all throughout the story.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much else that I can say without any spoilers, as I do believe that this is one of those stories that benefit from going in with the least amount of info possible, but I can mention that one of my absolute favorite tropes was done amazingly! History written by the victors, and the importance of perspective will always be big wins for me whenever I find them in books. Moreover there’s some linguistics play and that tickled me to no end.
Lawrence tackles the cyclical nature of time and societies, while also considering that time is also a river, in all its paradoxical nature. Not gonna lie, it really got me philosophizing past a point there and I pity the poor soul that listened to me go off the deep end about it. But that’s what this book does!! You need answers and once you have them you have so many themes that can be talked about for hours on end! So, forgive me while I go rec this to some people I know because I want to talk about it!
Ultimately, this first installment in Lawrence’s latest trilogy paves the way for what promises to be a truly memorable series and I cannot wait for everyone else to read it, and for the sequels to come out – that cliffhanger was intense! Also, I’ve seen from my fellow co-bloggers that there are fun Easter eggs to Lawrence’s other books in this one, and as the sucker for an egg hunt that I am, I now want to go back and read all his other stuff to see what I’ll find.
The Book That Wouldn’t Burn comes out this May 9th, so go on and preorder this mind meld of a novel, you won’t regret it. Your feels maybe will a little but details really.
Until next time,
Eleni A. E.
PS: For the Doctor Who fans out there, this book reminded me SO much of three episodes, be it for the overall vibes, setting, or some plot points. Firstly (and pretty obviously) the Silence in Library/ Forest of the Dead two-parter in S4 and then The Girl Who Waited from S6.