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.
Firstly, a big thank-you to the publisher for an advanced reading copy in exchange for an honest review.
Secondly, I am a big Mark Lawrence fan and this book is in my top three most anticipated releases for 2023. So spoiler alert, I knew going into this book that I would most likely love it, and love it I did. At the end of 2019, I read both The Broken Empire and Red Queen’s War and that kick started my reading journey once again. I continued on, and read Book of the Ancestor and Book of the Ice as well and loved both. My mom is also a Lawrence fan and we’ve really enjoyed piecing together the Lawrence-verse connections as more and more books are released.
Finally, this is a book review, so let’s get into it, shall we? The Book That Wouldn’t Burn is a whole new setting compared to the Empire or Abeth present in Lawrence’s previous four trilogies. Here we start out in the Dust, a barren wasteland starved for water with no end in sight. Livira lives in a small town and one day her world is turned inside out when sabbers, a tall, quick monster-like species, attack her village, killing everyone except the children. The children are then rescued by humans during the following days and brought to Crath City, a city grown out of the Dust and sheltered behind walls. Most importantly, Crath City is the home of the Library.
“All books, no matter their binding, will fall to dust. The stories they carry may last longer. They might outlive the paper, the library, even the language in which they were first written. The greatest story can reach the stars….”
Livira is young when we first meet her and we follow her into early adulthood. She is given a chance no other dusters are: to apprentice at the Library and, to eventually become a Librarian. The library that Mark Lawrence has crafted is incredible. Livira is a mischievous and curious young girl and she explores the Library. Through her eyes we discover the tangled puzzle it is and unlock some of the secrets it holds.
The second POV, Evar was born in the Library and has known only his ‘siblings’ and the two Assistants set to aid them. There are crops grown in the library and a central pool that provides water. Like Livira, he is driven by curiosity and the mystery of what lies outside the Library he’s known his whole life.
“There are moments in life when you know with a great and unshakeable certainty that everything will change.”
On one fateful day both Evar and Livira manage, through different means, to stumble into The Exchange, a place where time and space cease to matter. The Exchange, to me, was very reminiscent of the Wood Between the Worlds that Polly and Diggory discover in The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis. However, there are twists and differences that reveal themselves in time. After that first meeting, time begins to move differently between the characters, Livira stumbles into the Exchange every couple years and Evar experiences only a matter of days and with one trip to the Exchange.
The ending to this book is explosive and it hurts so much, in all the best ways that a book that makes you feel and love the characters does. Reader beware, is all I’ll say. Be prepared once you reach the last 20% of the book to be physically unable to put it down until you finish and then to stare in quiet contemplation and rush to check for any news on book 2 (which of course book 1 isn’t even out yet so… I was out of luck).
“And she knew that amid all those oceans of the written word there was just one book that should by rights be burning, and yet was refusing the flames.”
There are a couple of important themes through the book, such as history repeating itself, restriction of knowledge and most of all how hatred is perhaps, contextual and not all barriers are impossible to overcome. For fans of Mark Lawrence, there are epigraphs and mentions of some well loved characters but by no means do you need to have read his entire works to enjoy this book.
For me, The Book That Wouldn’t Burn not only met expectations, but shattered them. This book is simply mesmerizing. Mark Lawrence continues to deliver polished prose, an engaging plot, extraordinary characters and an overall, unforgettable story.
There are four other posts coming on this FanFiAddict tour of The Book That Wouldn’t Burn, check back every Friday for a new review and don’t forget to pick up the book on May 9th.