Review: The Book That Wouldn’t Burn
This book has an interesting title. Don’t you think? I must admit, it threw me for a bit of a loop the first time I saw it. Same for the series name. Didn’t quite know what to think after the initial announcement. Excitement for a new Mark Lawrence book? Well, yeah, of course. But what kind of book was this going to be? Any idea as to whether or not it would be connected to the rest of his books, as they all seem to be so far? It sure didn’t sound like it. But there was always the chance. And so, alas, not a book that I pre-ordered, but when I got the chance to get an eArc, I was in. Of course, I was. What kind of question is that?
THE BOOK THAT WOULDN’T BURN is the first of a new projected trilogy from Mr. Mark Lawrence, one of our favorite authors here at EBR. Although, given this guy’s throughput, it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest to find out that he’d already penned (at the very least) the first draft of the last line of the series. Guy produces.
Evar and Livira are two individuals that have never met, and lacking the advanced technology (magic?) that lies at the very crux of this story, they would have never had that chance. But, as they say, the author will find a way.
Livira Page is a destitute refugee, living in a small village out on a vast plain of dust and heat. Life is hard, and cruel, and has given her nothing that might in any way be construed as luck. But she’s smart. That she is. Early on, her village is attacked by a pack of vicious sabbers – a race of massive wolf-men – and taken prisoner along with nearly all of the children in the village. Almost on the back of that attack, human soldiers wandering the desert in search of these sabbers, attack the raiding party and save the orphaned children. Although, they are none too excited about having these waifs foisted upon them. Quickly, they return to their city, and leave the younglings to be sorted by the hierarchy of societal labor there. It is at this stage of the game that Livira receives some unexpected help from an old man of some assumed repute, and she ends up being placed in the care of the Great Library, around which the city has been built, instead of being relegated to cleaning its sewers or some other equally heinous labor.
Evar Evantari lives within the confines of a massive Library (The same one, maybe? Hmm?) with a few others that he considers to be his siblings. One sister and two brothers, with a third brother having somewhat recently disappeared within the innumerable stacks of books. Before coming to the Library, they lived with their families, outside, but at some point were sent into a mechanism of sorts, and something within the construct of that unknowable Mechanism had conspired to spit all five of them out into the Library at the same time. To their knowledge, they are utterly alone, but for two android like-constructs that occasionally help them with any issues. Unlike his siblings, Evar was not trained with pointed knowledge during his time within the Mechanism, and it is his only desire to escape from the confines of this prison and return to the world at large. Hoping that he might take these people that he now considers to be his family with him.
THE BOOK THAT WOULDN'T BURN is an interesting science fantasy story about information, technology, and the people that would control it.
In typical Lawrence fashion, this story starts with a bang. I love the way this guy starts his stories. Never a question of defining the character, or the place, or setting the hook. Just WHAM. Every time, like clockwork. One of the reasons I love getting into a new Lawrence book.
The story is broken into three parts, mainly around sections of Livira’s life. The first, dealing with her entry into the Library; the second around her initial time there, learning to be a Librarian in a setting very similar to a school for young people; and the third at a point several years after the second, as her status in the school of Librarians makes some progress.
Overall, the story was enjoyable. Livira’s interactions between one of the soldiers that saved her from the sabbers, or the old man that got her into the Library, or any of the other students, were enjoyable. She deals with each of their own motivations and ideas – some more political in scope than others – as she learns more about the city and the Library around which it is built. Lawrence builds the setting and the world into which Livira has been thrust by having her learn about it in turns. It’s history, or its mythology, I was never quite sure. In some pieces, these stories of the Library’s past come from what looks like early stories from the Christian Bible. Eventually she makes her way into the Library’s main vault, and it is so much bigger than she can take in. Chambers upon chambers upon chambers, most filled to capacity with shelves and shelves of books. The Library itself was easily one of the most interesting aspects of the story for me, and its several different aspects made me slowly realize that indeed, it looked as if this tale has come from the same world as all the other books Lawrence has written: Earth.
For me, it seemed obvious that Livira and Evar would eventually meet, and indeed they do. They learn from each other where they are, and in turn, more about the Library and its expanse. And some more about each other. If anything though, it was the gradual evolution of the understanding of the Library that kept me reading, and not the characters. Even though each of them seemed to be well-drawn, I found that I wasn’t particularly enamored with either. In some respects, I think this came from their lack of well-defined motivations, which kept me from understanding them or becoming as invested as I might otherwise have been. It was never particularly clear to me why Livira had such a drive to plumb its depths, though indeed she did have that drive and it felt very singular in nature. That, combined with Evar’s almost singular motivation to escape the Library (I can’t help but think at this point.. “Let me in! Let me in! Let me out! Let me out!” ala The Lion King), had me feeling very conflicted about the nature of the plot, as it felt very geared toward showing off the Library, more than elucidating its characters.
In the end, I definitely enjoyed the tale, and I’ll be looking for the second when it comes out, but this one hasn’t left me as excited as I normally am for a new series book from Lawrence after having read the first. Perhaps a sign, that from my perspective, he’s now fighting against himself for a good rating, instead of against everything else that’s out there clamoring for my attention.
- Recommended Age: 16+, for violence mostly
- Language: Plenty of strong language from soldiers, but they're not around much
- Violence: As with language, plenty when present, but not often present
- Sex: Several casual references to past deeds