I reviewed the previous novel in Rachel Caine's dystopian alternate history fantasy series back in April here and promised that I would get to Smoke and Iron relatively soon. The time got away from me. With the best of intentions, I become over-committed. Then I heard from the publisher wondering when I would review it. So I shoe-horned this Net Galley into my schedule as best as I could. Many thanks to the publisher and Net Galley for the ARC.
The central characters of this series are rebels, but they are rebels that are part of the Great Library. They are scholars, obscurists with magical abilities and High Garda military officers who want the Great Library to be restored to its original values without the authoritarianism and corruption that had crept in. They're something like the contemporary Americans who call themselves the Resistance except that the protagonists of this series are only a small group. They needed to gain more support or they couldn't possibly succeed. Smoke and Iron is the story of how they start to build a network. This isn't a simple process. It's difficult and dangerous. It also couldn't be completed in one book.
There is a belief that heroes are people who accomplish great feats on their own. This is a myth. Heroes have mentors and allies. Even an impressively strong character like the hijabi heroine Khalila couldn't do it all on her own. Even the powerful obscurist Morgan needed help from within her own order. Jess had connections from the criminal world where he originated. They all had people that they could call on. Some of those who responded were surprising. The inventor Thomas provided some astonishing innovations.
By the end of Smoke and Iron what had seemed like a quixotic mission began to look possible. This novel is the turning point. So it's definitely essential to readers of the Great Library series. Yet a positive resolution isn't guaranteed. Hold on to your metaphorical headgear. The fifth book in the series is likely to be hair-raising because the Archivist and his cronies won't give up their power without a tremendous struggle.