Feast your eyes on the beautiful cover for the third book in the wildly addicting The Great Library series by Rachel Caine — ASH AND QUILL! Seriously, if you’re not already addicted to this series, it must be because you’re not breathing. The book won’t be out until July 2017, but for now you can scroll down and read a sneak peek excerpt from Chapter One!
Books burned too easily.
Paper tanned in the fluttering heat, then sparked sullen red at the edges. Flames left fragile curls of ash. Leather bindings smoked and shriveled and blackened, just like burning flesh.
Jess Brightwell watched the fire climb the narrow-built pyre of books and willed himself not to flinch as each successive layer caught. His brain raced with involuntary calculations. One hundred twenty-two books in five layers. The burning bottom layer: forty-four gone. The second level held another thirty-two, and it was already billowing dull smoke. The next had eighteen more volumes, then five on top of that. The pyramid was capped by one lone book that sat tantalizingly ready for the grabbing. Easy to save as the flames climbed the stack, consuming layer after layer, and burning something inside him blacker and colder.
If I could just save one …
But he couldn’t save anything. Even himself, at the moment.
Jess’s head hurt fiercely in the glare of the sun. Everything was still a blur. He remembered the chaos of London as the Welsh army descended on it, a battle even he had never imagined the English would lose; he remembered the mesmerizing sight of the dome of St. Paul’s catching fire above them as Librarians struggled to save what they could.
He remembered, when it counted, his family turning its back on him and running.
Most of all, he remembered being forced along with his friends, into the Translation Chamber, and the sickening, ripping sensation of being destroyed and created again far, far from London … sent here to the Burner-held city of Philadelphia.
To the rebellious colonies of America.
Jess and his friends hadn’t given them any time to recover; they’d been dragged still sick and weak from a marble room in Philadelphia’s City Hall building to what must have once been a sports stadium; in better times, maybe it had been filled with cheering crowds. Now, it was half-ruined, melted into a misshapen lump on one side of the concrete stands, and instead of a grassy field in the middle there was bare ground, and a pyre in the middle.
A pyre built of books.
Jess couldn’t take his eyes off of them as they burned, because he was thinking, sickly, we’re next.
“Jess,” said Scholar Christopher Wolfe, who was on his knees next to him in the dirt. “They’re not original books. They’re Blanks.” That was true. But Jess didn’t miss the tremors running through the man, either. The shine of Wolfe’s dark eyes was made of pure, unholy rage. He was right, Blanks were just empty paper and bindings provided by the Great Library of Alexandria, vessels to hold words copied on command from originals kept safe within the Library’s archives. These were empty symbols that were burning. In any Library territory, they’d be cheaply and easily replaced, and nothing would be lost at all.
But seeing them destroyed still hurt. He’d been raised to love books, for all that his family had smuggled them, sold them, and profited by them.
Words were sacred things, and this was a particularly awful kind of heresy.
As he watched, the last book shivered in the rising heat, as if it might break free and escape the fire. But then the edges curled, paper smoked, and it was gone in rising curls of fire.
Scholar Khalila Seif knelt on his left side, straight and quiet as a statue. She looked perfectly calm; she had her hands resting lightly on her thighs, her head high and her hijab fluttering lightly at the edges in the hot breeze. Beneath the black silk Scholar’s outer robe she wore a still-clean blue dress, only a little muddy and ashen at the hem from their progress through London. Next to Khalila, Glain Wathen looked like she was only momentarily frozen in the act of rising up—a lithe warrior, all vibrating tension. Beyond her was Thomas Schreiber, then Morgan Hault, then—last and least, in Jess’s thoughts—Dario Santiago. Outcast, even among their little band of exiles.
To Jess’s right was Scholar Wolfe and, beyond him, Captain Santi. That was the entire roll call of their party of prisoners, and not a single useful weapon between them. They’d not had time to exchange a word. Jess couldn’t imagine any of them had much useful to say just now.
There was an audience in the crumbling stands: the good citizens of Philadelphia. A ragged, patchwork crowd of hard men and women and children who’d survived starvation, deprivation of all sorts, and constant attacks. They had no pity for the pampered servants of the Great Library, and that didn’t bode well.
What would Wolfe tell them, if he had the chance? Think. Our minds are our best weapons. Jess took in a deep breath, and choked on the stench of burning books. Imaginary Wolfe, he thought, gave crap advice.
A man dressed in a fine cut suit of black wool stepped up to block Jess’s view of the pyre. He was a tall, bespectacled fellow, full of the confidence of a man of property; he could have, by appearance, been a banker, or a lawyer in a more normal sort of place. The smoke that rose up black against the pale blue morning sky seemed to billow right from the crown of his head. His collar-length hair was the same gray as the ash.
Willinger Beck. Elected leader of the Burners of Philadelphia—and, by extension, all Burners everywhere, since this place was the symbol of their fanatical movement. The head fanatic in a movement composed entirely of fanatics.
He studied their faces without making any comment at all. He must have enjoyed what he saw.
“Very impressive waste of resources,” Scholar Wolfe said. His tone was sour, and completely bracing to Jess. Wolfe sounds the same, no matter what. “Is this a prelude to setting us on fire next?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Beck said. “Surely our learned guests understand the power of a symbol.”