Esmay Rosalyne’s Spoiler-Free Review of The Book That Wouldn’t Burn by Mark Lawrence
Expected publication: 11 May 2023
Series: Book 1 in The Library Trilogy
Genre: Portal Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Mystery
Rating: 3.5 stars
*Disclaimer: I received a free eARC of this book from NetGalley and HarperCollins UK in exchange for a fair and honest review.
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.
Review of The Book That Wouldn’t Burn by Mark Lawrence
How does one even begin to write a review for a book that is this mind-bending and conceptually explosive?
In true Mark Lawrence fashion, The Book That Wouldn’t Burn tells a unique and inventive story that defies genres and that will make you question everything you thought you understood about storytelling.
If you’ve read the synopsis of this book, then you’ve probably noticed that it’s rather vague. And while I would love to give you more insight into the plot here, I honestly don’t think that I would be doing you a favour. In my opinion, going into this book as blind as possible and just revelling in the mystery and intrigue of it all is exactly what makes this reading experience so special. Trust the author, let yourself be blown away by all the mind-boggling twists and turns, and just enjoy the wild ride.
All you really need to know is that this story follows two young people whose lives and fates are intricately yet almost inexplicably tied together from the start. Some of the interesting things you will find in this book are a seemingly infinite and labyrinthine library, android-like Assistants, portals allowing you to travel through time and space, (semi?) sentient animals serving as Library Guides, and lots of Easter Eggs to enjoy for us booklovers.
This book started off extremely strong for me and I was hooked from the first page. I personally love slow-burn and character-/theme-driven stories, so I was having a great time just getting to know our two protagonists and exploring the cool and enticing world that Lawrence has created here.
I immediately loved Evar’s POV because I was so enamoured with the claustrophobic yet atmospheric Library setting, but Livira took me a while to warm up to. I think the main reason why I struggled to connect with her at the start is because she is only nine years old for the first half of this novel and I just found that to be a bit unrealistic. She acted much more mature than any child of her age believably should/could have, no matter their life experiences. But then there are some (very smooth, I should say) time jumps and she really grew on me over the course of the story!
Now, I think I am going to be a bit of an outlier in the fact that I preferred the first half of the book over the second half. There are some plot twists around the halfway mark that were undeniably clever and cool, but I can’t say that they totally landed for me. In fact, the sudden increase in the action, pacing and stakes combined with the mind-boggling reveals just gave me a bit of a headache. So even though I can acknowledge that this book is masterfully crafted, I just can’t deny that I personally liked the mystery and intrigue of this story more before we got all the answers.
Also, while I can see that this is first and foremost Evar and Livira’s story, I do wish the side characters would have gotten some more development. To me, they felt either a bit bland or it seemed like they had only one strong character trait that represented their entire personality. So when the supposedly tense action scenes hit, I just didn’t really care because I couldn’t get emotionally invested in the characters.
All that said, I did have quite a good time reading this book. I enjoyed following these two complex protagonists and loved the development of their complicated yet heartfelt relationship.
And, you know, it’s really hard not to enjoy a book that just feels like a love letter to storytelling and reading. I particularly enjoyed the way this story explored themes such as the power of knowledge, the evolution of language, racism and discrimination, education, collective memory, censorship, misinformation, and the way history is warped or lost over time.
And I know it might sound like this will be a slow or philosophical book when it’s dealing with such weighty themes, but the opposite couldn’t be more true. The themes are seamlessly woven into the narrative and I would actually argue that this is one of Lawrence’s snappiest and fastest-paced novels to date. Depending on the type of reader you are, this story is either going to feel frustrating and slightly convoluted or it will be a challenging and exciting wild ride from start to finish.
So, in the end, I just have to say that I am once again incredibly impressed by Lawrence’s wild imagination and ballsy storytelling. I mean, you have to give the man props for continuing to cook up some of the most inventive, mind-bending and genre-defying stories. This book is a beautiful blend of (portal) fantasy, sci-fi, mystery and dystopia, but probably also has a little sprinkle of just about any other genre you can think of.
If you like stories that keep you on your toes the entire way through, then The Book That Wouldn’t Burn is the perfect book for you.