Another NetGalley review for you today — I feel bad about how much I’ve neglected it lately, and decided to really get a move on and start working through my shelf of approved titles.
Blood, Ink & Fire is set in a world without books — just an endless stream of images known as Verity. But Noelle, our protagonist, sees words. After a few dramatic events, she discovers that she’s a reader, a rare thing in a world where literacy has been taken from people.
The premise was interesting, I’ll say that much. I know a lot of people fear changing technology will one day lead to a bookless world, but the world-building here didn’t entirely convince me, particularly in the early part of the novel. This was mainly because the mechanics of how reading had been taken away weren’t explained for a long time, and therefore I couldn’t quite understand how this had happened.
It also wasn’t made clear that there was a difference between language and literacy, so for some time I couldn’t understand why characters talked about words as though they were something Other and alien… but used words to do so. As the book went on this was explored in more depth and began to make sense, but it limited my enjoyment in the earlier part of the novel.
As a concept, it also had a wee bit of a “hurr durr technology is scary and thomas edison was a witch” vibe to it. Look, I love books, and I think it would be devastating if no one read them any more, but I don’t think changing technology will be the reason for that. Plus, I’m a firm believer in oral storytelling, which was mostly glossed over here in favour of books as physical objects.
I’ve seen a few reviews comparing the book to Fahrenheit 451, which seems fair enough given the subject matter, but when it comes to the philosophy I’m definitely more of the view Bradbury’s characters espouse: books are vessels and it’s what is inside that’s important and which needs to be preserved, rather than the physical things themselves:
It’s not books you need, it’s some of the things that once were in books. […] Take it where you can find it, in old phonograph records, old motion pictures, and in old friends; look for it in nature and look for it in yourself. Books were only one type or receptacle where we stored a lot of things we were afraid we might forget. There is nothing magical in them at all. The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us.
I guess this viewpoint explains why I’m totally fine with writing in books, however much that makes some bookworms shudder… (you may want to read the follow-up post as well). But let’s move on, because I’m getting bogged down in the philosophy and message here, and this review shouldn’t be about whether I agree with the book or not.
The writing was decent on the whole, with a few nice lines, but it didn’t blow me out of the sky. There were a few less believable bits of dialogue, but nothing that majorly interfered with my enjoyment.
On the subject of characters, I can say… that there was one called Miriam! And that’s about it. Honestly, none of them grabbed me. The protagonist, Noelle, wasn’t as annoying as some YA protags, but she wasn’t amazingly engaging either. There were a few moments where I really connected emotionally, but I don’t think there were enough of them.
As for relationships… No. JUST NO. I really wasn’t feeling the romance here. It felt like insta-love in disguise, only it’s hard for me to explain the disguise part without major spoilers, so I’ll leave you with the comment that this was working perfectly fine without the romance, and it seemed totally unnecessary.
It had a decent quest-style plot with high stakes, and it actually followed through on those, not pulling its punches — I find it frustrating when nobody dies in a book, since it makes everything feel cheap. But the pacing seemed off. Some scenes went on for ages; others changed in an instant. The end, when it arrived, was abrupt and somewhat confusing. Is there going to be a sequel? It doesn’t make much sense if there isn’t, but at the same time…
I don’t know, the ending definitely let the book down somewhat. It was very dramatic and far too sudden, with a lot of things left unexplained.
So yeah, I think it’s a three-star book, and that may be slightly too generous, but that’s what I’m giving it.