Timy reviews The Book That Wouldn’t Burn, the first book in Mark Lawrence‘s new The Library trilogy, published on May 11, 2023, by HarperVoyager.
Thanks to HarperVoyager for the eARC received via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
|Series: The Library Trilogy #1
|Date of Publishing: May 11, 2023
|Trigger Warnings: death, blood, violence
|Page count: 576
Possible The Sound of Madness Reading Challenge prompts:
- Free Your Mind
- Are You Gonna Be My Girl
- Bulletproof Skin
- I’m Still Here
- Vészhelyzet (Emergency)
- I’ll Be There
A boy has lived his whole life trapped within a vast library, older than empires and larger than cities.
A girl has spent hers in a tiny settlement out on the Dust where nightmares stalk and no one goes.
The world has never even noticed them. That’s about to change.
Their stories spiral around each other, across worlds and time. This is a tale of truth and lies and hearts, and the blurring of one into another. A journey on which knowledge erodes certainty, and on which, though the pen may be mightier than the sword, blood will be spilled and cities burned.
‘People die, brother. That’s what I’ve learned. Life’s cheap, easily spent. And if there’s any joy to be had it’s in the moments between. So, when you find something that makes you happy you take it with both hands, and you hold on to it for as long as you can. It’s not going to last. It will be taken from you. But that’s not the point. The point is that you took your chance, you drank the wine, you took what good you could from the world, and you gave it yours.’
Man, I had a hard time picking a song. First I wanted to go with I’m Still Here by John Rzeznik (one of the theme songs of Treasure Planet) with Evar in mind, but that didn’t sit quite right with me. Eventually, I settled on Get Me Going by Oh The Larceny, a band I had only recently discovered.
The Book That Wouldn’t Burn is not my first Mark Lawrence book, and most probably not my last either. I’ve known his works since before I became a blogger. I wouldn’t call myself his fan, necessarily, but I read his The Broken Empire trilogy as well as his Impossible Times trilogy, widely different as they are. When he first started talking about The Library trilogy, I was intrigued. I couldn’t explain to you why I had this need to read this book. Maybe because we book bloggers are like Pavlov’s dog, but instead of being triggered by the sound of a bell, we react to the mention of a book about a library. I mean, come on! This is like our paradise or hell (depending on your preferences).
So, The Book That Wouldn’t Burn had become one of my most anticipated releases in 2023. And that’s a double-edged blade because on one hand, high expectations are hard to live up to, but on the other, when those expectations are met it’s oh-so-sweet. That said, I tried to go into this book as blindly as possible. I didn’t read the blurb, I only knew what little snippets I picked up on social media from Lawrence. There are only a handful of authors whose books I’m willing to go into like this. And while The Book That Wouldn’t Burn didn’t quite blow my socks off, it still lived up to my expectations. All in all, we are off to a good start.
The Book That Wouldn’t Burn has two POV characters: Livira and Evar who live in different times. Livira is an outsider in Crath City, coming from the Dust after an attack on her settlement. She is like the weed she got her name after: it’s impossible to keep her down. Against all odds, she finds a life for herself within the walls of the library. Evar, on the other hand, was born in the library, prisoned within the walls for generations, and only he and his siblings are left accompanied only by The Assistant and The Soldier. Mysterious beings, or helpers whose job is to look after the library.
While I liked both characters, I connected with Evar more. They have a lot of similarities, having a lonely life for one. But while Evar always feels like he is somehow less than his siblings, and only second to them in anything they have skills for thanks to the Mechanism, Livira is surrounded by friends and tends to be ahead of most of her peers. Evar desperately looks for a way out and longs to find the woman of his dreams, Livira seeks knowledge about the Library to find her way back to the Exchange she stumbled upon one time. Evar comes across as driven more by emotions while Livira is more practical and can come across as a bit cold sometimes. And honestly, the romancey subplot was somehow more heartwrenching from Evar’s POV.
There is also a wide cast of side characters that bring this story to life. Some were a bit less fleshed out than I’d like, but they still were a great addition. I especially enjoyed reading about the guards – the shadow dog, Volente, and the raven. I really hope we get to learn about the backstory of how these creatures came to be part of the Library as we get to learn more about the assistants too. And Yute! The old librarian is sure someone to watch out for 👀.
I’m not going to go into the plot much, because I believe this is something you have to discover for yourself. What I’m going to say is that the concept is quite exquisite. I found myself fascinated by the library and its history, the way Lawrence pulled the layers back one by one for the reader to sit in astonishment by some revelations. I guessed a few but probably that was more intuition than anything else. Still. It was super gratifying to find out I was right, ha! One of my favorite things about this book, apart from the worldbuilding and the library itself, was all the hidden easter eggs. There is a lot of name drops either in the story itself or in the epigraphs, and those were fun to discover.
‘We’re all the story we tell about ourselves, silly.’ Another wave rocked them. ‘THat’s all anyone ever is – the story they tell, and the stories told about them. Fiction captures more than facts do. That’s why the library keeps it. It’s the most important part of our memories.’
The Book That Wouldn’t Burn started out a bit slow, it took some time for me to get into it, partly because it needed time to build up the setting and give us enough insight into the happenings, and partly because I find it difficult to get accustomed to Lawrence’s prose. There were some repetitions too, which I found annoying, but at one point I just found myself absolutely invested in Evar and Livira’s story. I think that was around the time when Livira reached adulthood. I had questions I wanted to be answered. Eventually, my persistence paid off.
As for the prose, it’s entirely a personal taste thing. I generally prefer something simpler, that has a different flow. But if you were a Lawrence fan up to this point, I don’t see why wouldn’t you love his newest book as well. In terms of genre, I think it’s probably slightly closer to the Impossible Times trilogy with the mix of Fantasy and sciencey elements (like time-traveling and the Mechanism).
The Book That Wouldn’t Burn is a mind-bending novel that sets a high bar for the books yet to come in The Library trilogy. Lawrence takes the reader’s hand and leisurely guides them through the many rooms and layers of the library, unraveling a story about books, love, about history repeating itself, and the lesson we take is that too much knowledge can be just as dangerous as little knowledge. That and compassion and acceptance are something that we all should learn, as understanding someone might be much more helpful than jumping to conclusions based on one’s outer appearance. Looks are not everything, my friends. I should know.
All said I look forward to learning what happens next!
If you don’t want to miss any of our posts, please consider signing up to our monthly newsletter or follow us on social media:
You can also support us on Ko-fi so we can keep maintaining the Asylum!