Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine

The basics

Title: Ink and Bone


Series: The Great Library #1

- The Great Library (July 2015)
- Paper and Fire (July 2016)

Add it: Goodreads

Goodreads Summary:

Ruthless and supremely powerful, the Great Library is now a presence in every major city, governing the flow of knowledge to the masses. Alchemy allows the Library to deliver the content of the greatest works of history instantly—but the personal ownership of books is expressly forbidden.

Jess Brightwell believes in the value of the Library, but the majority of his knowledge comes from illegal books obtained by his family, who are involved in the thriving black market. Jess has been sent to be his family’s spy, but his loyalties are tested in the final months of his training to enter the Library’s service.

When he inadvertently commits heresy by creating a device that could change the world, Jess discovers that those who control the Great Library believe that knowledge is more valuable than any human life—and soon both heretics and books will burn.…

Read a full summary of Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine below. If you can’t remember what happened in Ink and Bone and you need a refresher, then you’re in the right place.

This recap was written by Anya @ On Starships and Dragonwings who is awesome and hilarious <3

in short

In Ink and Bone, the Library of Alexandria still exists in 2030 and has complete control over the world’s books. It’s illegal to own originals and instead everyone has tablets that they can use to read books from the Library that are allowed. Jess is from a smuggling family and is sent to the Library to study to be a Librarian and secretly to spy for his family. He makes friends and competes for six spots. The remaining students are sent to Oxford in the middle of a siege to rescue a trove of original books that were discovered. A number of students die in the journey. Morgan Hault is a student but has the magical power of the Obscurists. She doesn’t want to be a slave though, so she is trying to stay hidden. Jess has a crush on her. She is eventually captured and sent to the Iron Tower. Jess’ best friend Thomas is found to have been making a printing press, which the Library is NOT OKAY WITH. He is killed and his invention destroyed. The surviving students are assigned their library jobs and sent off to start on them and Jess gets a pretty low rank and only a year’s contract, ouch.

what happened in Ink and Bone?

  • The Library of Alexandria exists and it is about year 2030
  • Jess’ family smuggles original books (which is illegal)
  • Jess’ older brother Liam was caught running a book and executed a while back
  • In the prologue Jess delivers the only copy of On Sphere-Making by Archemedes to an “ink-licker” who then eats the first few pages
  • Jess’ father sends him to learn to be a Librarian at the Library of Alexandria
  • His twin Brendan stays to take over the family business
  • They want Jess to spy for them long term
  • Dario is Jess’ snooty and rich roommate
  • Khalia scored a perfect score on the entrance exam which is a first ever
  • Thomas is from Berlin and Jess’ bestie at school
  • The Welsh and British are at war
  • Glain is another student, crabby and Welsh
  • Jess sneaks out of Library and steals a book by Aristophanes and delivers it to Brendan
  • About 30 postulants are competing for six library spots
  • Morgan Hault shows up late at the Library because she was getting out of Oxford which is currently besieged by the Welsh
  • Jess is sent with other students and Collections to raid a smuggler house, incidentally the house that he broke into recently to steal from!
  • He “finds” the hidden alcove where the original books are hidden
  • Things go bad and Khalia saves the day with made fighting skills
  • Jess has a special ability to teleport books, he can send over 20 where most people can only handle five at a time
  • Jess’ ability is tested further and shown to work on magical tracking maps too
  • Students start suspecting that duplicate originals are destroyed at the Archives
  • About half the students refuse to draw tiles for a dismissal lottery and so are all dismissed, thinning the group to about ten
  • Excerpt from a communication reveals that there are too few Obscurists to support the library and that Wolfe had proposed a printing press but was majorly shut down
  • Thomas is working on a printing press without realizing the consequences
  • Another test where the students go to a house that was booby-trapped with explosive books to attack the Archives
  • Jess catches Morgan messing with magic late at night; it turns out she has the Obscurist ability but is trying to hide
  • Wolfe knows about Morgan and didn’t turn her in
  • It is revealed that Oxford found a hidden cache of originals and the students’ final exam is to go to the war zone and teleport those books to safety
  • They are translated to Oxford (which is terrifying) and Danton dies and Izumi isn’t able to translate and so fails
  • Danton was a burner spy and his death wasn’t an accident
  • Khalia and Dario are now a couple
  • They sort through the enormous trove of originals in Oxford and realize they can’t take them all, but get a lot out
  • They are betrayed by the English army which violates the Library’s neutrality and are trapped
  • They sneak out and meet up with Jess’ Cousin Frederick who agrees to get them out of Oxford for a rare volume
  • Morgan’s father finds them and is revealed to be crazy and now a Burner
  • Portero is stabbed in the escape from Oxford and dies
  • Oxford is bombed with Greek Fire as soon as they leave
  • Jess was stabbed in the escape and didn’t realize it; they spend a while healing up
  • Frederick adopts the baby that was shoved into Jess’ hands during the escape
  • Santi and Wolfe are a couple and are freaking adorable
  • Morgan jumps off the train, apparently committing suicide instead of being taken to the Iron Tower
  • Just kidding, she’s hiding in Jess’ room when he gets back
  • Kissy times!
  • They are attacked on the train taking them back to Alexandria by burners
  • Jess rescues Morgan and Wolfe from the train that is on fire; everyone is really burned and injured
  • Jess is kidnapped by the Burners, they tell him the train was a set-up by the Library to get rid of Wolfe and then let him go
  • Thomas made Jess a chess automaton
  • Jess’ journal was mirrored so all the secrets he wrote down were revealed to the Library
  • It’s revealed that because Obscurists have become so rare, they are now forced to breed more Obscurists in the Iron Tower
  • Morgan is captured and handcuffed, then collared by the Obscurist Magnus
  • Obscurist Magnus is Wolfe’s mother
  • Jess finds out about Thomas’ printing press and tells Wolfe
  • The students’ building is raided and Jess, Wolfe and Santi are arrested
  • Thomas was captured and killed because of his printing press (*sobs*)
  • Jess is told that he must now spy on Wolfe going forward
  • Jess is given the lowest rank in the High Garda for one year; Galin is given a high rank in the High Garda, Dario is given a position as a Scholar, Khalia is given a lifetime Research Scholar position (big deal!)
  • Thomas left a note showing Jess where he hid the plans for the printing press
  • Morgan works out a secure communication and asks Jess to help her changes things, dun dun dunnnnn

how did it end?

When it is found out that Thomas made a printing press, the students’ dormitory is raided and Thomas is captured and killed. Jess is captured and questioned. He’s told that unless he spies on Wolfe from here on out, he’ll be failed or worse. He agrees, though he’s obviously not happy about it. Morgan, who is in the Iron Tower now, is able to open a secure connection to Jess through her mad Obscurist skills and at the very end she asks him to help her change things.

anything else

Ink-licker – person who likes to get their hands on rare copies of books and destroy them by eating the pages in their powerlust
Postulant – student at the Library
Codex – a tablet-like device that is used to load books from the Library onto “blanks” and pretty much everything else (ID, personal journal, etc, no Farmville though 🙁 )
Blanks – ereader that syncs with originals from library
Garda – police
Archive – where the original are kept
Clips/Tags – alchemical devices that can teleport books to the archive
Geneih – also called Romans, currency of Alexandria
Obscurists – people with special alchemical power who can alter the Codex and make clips, etc
Burner – political movement against the Library’s tight control; they burn books to prevent the library from getting them; they believe lives matter more than books
Doctrine of Mirroring – the discovery that allows blanks to show books from codex
Translation – teleportation for humans
Greek fire – highly explosive liquid used by burners
Magnus – head of that division of the Library, ex Obscurist Magnus

This is a full plot summary of what happened in Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine. Check out our recap list for more recaps. If you can’t find what you need, you can request a recap from us!


  • Rachel says:

    Thanks so much for this! Was a year and a half since I read the first and just got a hold of the second.

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