A world where books are illegal? Impossible, right? Not in Rachel Caine’s magical The Great Library series! We consumed the first book, INK and BONE, in one day. Our hands sizzled as we flipped through book number two, PAPER and FIRE. And with book three, ASH and QUILL, out July 11, we had to find out what to expect for Jess & Co. directly from the mind that created this rich world. The one, the only….Rachel Caine!
(Pssst. if you’re new to this wildly addicting series, click on the book covers to learn more!)
Justine Magazine: Hi, Rachel! Let’s start at the beginning. What inspired The Great Library series?
Rachel Caine: A number of things, but mainly a mental image I had of a man dressed in black scholar robes carrying a pile of rare books through a battlefield. The battle raged all around him, but nobody touched him. It was an odd sort of image, and I had to solve the puzzle: why was he there? What was he carrying? Why did everyone leave him alone?
All those questions became key to creating the world of The Great Library!
And then, the deeper I researched the ancient Great Library of Alexandria, the more intriguing the world became to me. What we think we know about it is at odds with the reality, and it just made things more applicable to our current world.
JM: That image is so powerful, we can totally see it. With that in mind, how would you describe the series using only three words?
RC: Knowledge is power.
JM: Love it! That’s the phrase on the cover of the first book! Speaking of books, if the main characters from the series were books, what book would they be, and why?
RC: Hmm, interesting question! I’d say Jess would be Dumas’s The Three Musketeers. A little bit of criminality, a whole lot of hero! Scholar Wolfe would be The Man in the Iron Mask. Khalila would choose something mind-bending, like Rousseau’s The Social Contract. Thomas would, I think, be something more modern, like Goliath by Scott Westerfeld. No question to me, Glaine would pick First Test by Tamora Pierce. Morgan would choose Mary Stewart’s The Crystal Cave. Dario is definitely Machiavelli’s The Prince. And last but not least, Captain Santi would be On War by Clausewitz.
JM: OK, you just gave us an amazing reading list, and even though we don’t know all those books, the description fits each character so perfectly! We need to get our sneak peek into ASH and QUILL even more now. Now that Jess and the other exiles have fled London, they find themselves imprisoned in Philadelphia. What did you like most about bringing the story to the America?
RC: The great thing about the world of The Great Library is that it is absolutely a worldwide story. The Great Library has outposts in every corner of the globe… but the center of its most difficulty is in America (the United States doesn’t exist), where revolution has taken a different road than the one that produced our country. I thought taking them all completely out of their comfort zones and into a country that to most of my readers is familiar and yet very, very different, would be a great way to test their characters to the limit. Philadelphia is definitely not the City of Brotherly Love in this book.
JM: The alternative history in this world is so much of the fun! What do you love most about writing for an alternate world on our familiar planet?
RC: It’s a fascinating way to examine current issues from a slightly distorted perspective, which is something that science fiction and fantasy have always done… The Great Library books are about a lot of things, but at the core is the question of censorship and control, and I think that’s a constant struggle in our current world. Alternative history, at the same time, lets us follow what-if paths that I find very intriguing as a reader. I’d love to see the great ancient wonders of the world, preserved. I’d love to climb the Lighthouse of Pharos and see the Colossus of Rhodes. I think we all would.
JM: Absolutely. And that’s why there are so many cinema-worthy scenes in this series. Do you have a personal favorite?
RC: I think it has to be the no-quarter bombardment of Philadelphia by the Library. It’s a shocking, horrifying experience for the team, and probably for the reader, but I wanted to get across the real costs of rebellion against an overwhelmingly powerful enemy. There’s a nightmarish quality to that whole section that keeps me awake at night, because those kinds of brutal attacks are happening somewhere in the world almost every day. It’s just not in a place we know and recognize.
JM: So sad and so true. This was a three-book series: is this it for Jess & Co. or can we look forward to more from this epically unputdownable series?
RC: It’s not it! I had originally planned this for three books, but when I got to ASH AND QUILL I realized the story was just too big for that. It needed two more to do it justice, and so I’m now hard at work on the fourth book, which currently doesn’t have a title. But if you think you’ve seen epic battles, just wait… there’s a lot more to come!
JM: Best news ever! OK, to close and just for fun…which Morganville character would be the most fun to write into The Great Library series?
RC: Oddly enough, I think most of them would adapt very well to The Great Library life, but I think the most obvious would be Myrnin. He doesn’t quite belong in our modern world, and he’d find the alchemy-based science of Jess’s world to be perfectly comfortable. And so many books! He’d love it.