Top critical review
An interesting page turner, but not a great story
Reviewed in the United States on April 11, 2017
The I read the book in a day, and I only put it down a couple of times because I had to. Despite finding that the story was full of what I consider holes, conflicts, and inconsistencies, I found myself engrossed. That's why it's getting three stars from me instead of one. Spoilers may be ahead, so read with caution.
There are lots of inconsistencies and holes in the plot. Some of these may be simply due to the Author leaving things too vague or assuming that the reader will assume certain things based on what is already present in the story (and you know what they say about the word assume). For example, why is Jeff forced to smuggle at a young age? I would understand it if he were from a poor smuggling family, but he's from a very wealthy family. We could assume that it's a family tradition, but there's nothing said that really suggests that the one who is meant to take over the family business must also risk getting hung because he is smuggling books before he's hit puberty. Another example is why does the family need to smuggle books anyways? Sure, they may be a wealthy commodity to smuggle, but it's very dangerous and getting caught could ruin the entire family. They're quite wealthy, so why stay in the business? You could assume that it's some sort of political thing, but you would be wrong (so far as we, the reader can tell), because Jess' father pounds it into his kids head that it is just a business, that books are just a business, repeatedly.
Then there's the application process of the Great Library. They want kids so they can indoctrinate them, I get that. But why does the author say it costs a fortune to even get a spot to take the test? And from my reading, that's the impression that I got, that buying a spot is the only way to get into the test. That means only the rich and powerful can get a spot. That means only the people connected to powerful crime families, or wealthy nobles, or other such people who would come into Library service with a purpose in mind (such as Jess going in so that he can help out his family business of smuggling books, or the other kids family who are part of the Burner faction). It's dumb. It would be better to only recruit from orphanages, and at a much younger age. Why would you start at 15 and up? Sure, there are reasons we could assume that this is the case (such as the Library using it as a way to do damage to wealthy/noble families who may cause issues to them by getting rid of their sons and daughters or something, though that doesn't make much sense).
Then there's the world building. It's obvious to me, from my reading, that the world was built around the story as the story was developed. This causes a lot of issues. There's nothing more annoying (to me) than when an author springs some new super-tech/super-magic that, at least from our previous reading about the world, shouldn't exist and apparently only exist for the convenience of the author in moving along the story. For example, two gold-tier, life-time induction people in a single 'class.' When it is previously stated that it almost never happens, not even a full page before that. Why does Jess 'class' have a Burner, two genius, and a hidden magic-users, etc... while he himself is an odd ball with a 'useful' skill? The author stacked it too much and it seemed unbelievable and hindered my ability to suspend my disbelief.
Then that brings me to Morgan, the Obscurist. That whole character, and all the plot points around her, are completely dumb. This is the thing I liked the least about the story. So you're telling me the a budding Obscurist is somehow able to outsmart an army of Obscurist in the Iron Tower, and the all-powerful Great Library? That she is somehow, despite apparently coming from a poorer family, get into the Library testing, pass the test, get into the same class that Jess is in that happens to be lead by Wolfe, who happens to be one of the only people in the Library who would be willing to hide (after finding out rather quickly) a prolific book smuggler and a much-wanted Obscurist? There's too much chance in favor of the characters. This is where I feel the author designed this story in reverse. First she designed the characters, then she designed the plot around the characters, and then she designed the book world around the plot. That's why so much of this book is frustrating, why its so inconsistent, why there are so many holes, and why the whole Morgan-Jeff love story is dumb.
Other memorable mentions are: The journals. You're telling me no one realized that the journals everyone uses are recorded into the Great Library via their blank magic/technology? And how convenient that they can have NSA-level analyzing via magic robots. This felt like a tacked on way to kill Thomas because the author wasn't up to the task of writing something interesting and just wanted to move the plot along quickly. And then there's the Alexander Express. I feel like the author didn't want to write a return story, and for some reason didn't just want to 'skip' the return, so she threw in this Alexander Express thing that accomplishes stuff that modern day technologically advanced nations struggle greatly to achieve. Somehow there's this 400+KPH train that has its own tracks that span continents and oceans. And we only learn it exists towards the end just so that the characters can conveniently return back to Alexandria quickly? And before this only the Archivist of the Great Library could use it.
So, in short, the author did not win over a reader. I felt I got my money worth, sure, but I won't read another of the Great Library series and may not read another story from this author. I'm not sure yet. I hope that by time she writes her next series she gets a strong editor to help smooth over her downfalls, or at least she learns from them in this series. The premise of the Great Library series is great, but the execution is sorely lacking.