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In an exhilarating new series, New York Times bestselling author Rachel Caine rewrites history, creating a dangerous world where the Great Library of Alexandria has survived the test of time....
Ruthless and supremely powerful, the Great Library is now a presence in every major city, governing the flow of knowledge to the masses. Alchemy allows the Library to deliver the content of the greatest works of history instantly—but the personal ownership of books is expressly forbidden.
Jess Brightwell believes in the value of the Library, but the majority of his knowledge comes from illegal books obtained by his family, who are involved in the thriving black market. Jess has been sent to be his family’s spy, but his loyalties are tested in the final months of his training to enter the Library’s service.
When he inadvertently commits heresy by creating a device that could change the world, Jess discovers that those who control the Great Library believe that knowledge is more valuable than any human life—and soon both heretics and books will burn....
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Rachel Caine is the New York Times, USA Today, and international bestselling author of more than forty novels, including Prince of Shadows, the Morganville Vampires series, the Weather Warden series, the Outcast Season series, and the Revivalist series.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
ALSO BY RACHEL CAINE
Text of a historical letter, the original of which is kept under glass in the Great Library of Alexandria and listed under the Core Collection.
From the scribe of Pharaoh Ptolemy II, to his most excellent servant Callimachus, Archivist of the Great Library, in the third year of his glorious reign:
Great King Ptolemy, Light of Egypt, has considered your counsel to make copies of the most important works of the Library to be housed in daughter libraries, hereinafter to be called Serapeum, for the access and enrichment of all men. Pharaoh, who is as wide as the Nile in his divine wisdom, agrees to this proposal.
You shall therefore survey the contents of the Great Library and create for him a listing of all works housed therein, which shall serve ever after as the accounting of this great storehouse of the knowledge of the world.
You shall then consult with the Library’s Editor to make exact copies of items suitable for the use of the Serapeum, being mindful of the need to provide works that elevate and educate.
By these means shall we further preserve the knowledge we have gathered and hold in trust from ancient times, to be preserved for the future of all who come after.
Pharaoh has also heard your words regarding the unaccompanied admission of females to this sacred space of the Serapeum, and in his divine wisdom refuses this argument, for women must be instructed by the more developed minds of men to ensure they do not wrongly interpret the riches that the Library offers. For a perversion of knowledge is surely worse than a lack of it.
Pharaoh and the gods will grant eternal favor and protection to this great work.
A handwritten annotation to the letter, in the hand of Callimachus.
His divine wisdom can kiss my common arse. We blind and hobble half of the world through such ignorance, and I will not have it. Women shall study at the Serapeum as they might be inclined. Let him execute me if he wishes, but I have seen enough of minds wasted in this world. I have a daughter.
My daughter will learn.
Six years ago
“Hold still and stop fighting me,” his father said, and slapped him hard enough to leave a mark. Jess went quiet. He hadn’t meant to fidget, but the pouch strapped to his bare chest felt hot and dangerous, like some animal that might turn on him and bite.
He looked up at his father as the man snugged the harness bindings closer. When it was suffocatingly tight, he tossed Jess a filthy old shirt.
He’d done this often enough that, while it was still frightening, it was no longer strange . . . But there was a sense that this time, this run, was different. Why, Jess didn’t know, except that his father seemed more tense than usual.
So he asked, hesitantly, “Da—anything I should know?”
“Doesn’t matter a damn what you know. Lose that book to the Garda and you’ll hang, if you’re lucky. If I don’t get you first. You know the route. Run it flat and fair, and you’d best damn well die before you give it to any but the one that’s paid for it.”
Callum Brightwell cast a critical eye over his son’s thin form, then yanked a vest from a chest and shoved it over Jess’s shirt. There was only one button on it. Jess fastened it. It hung two sizes loose, which was the point: better concealment for the harness.
Brightwell nodded and stepped back. He was a smallish man, runted by poor nutrition in his youth, but now he was dressed well in a bright yellow silk waistcoat and trousers of fine cotton. “You look the part,” he told Jess. “Remember to stay with the cutters. Don’t split off on your own unless the Garda spring a trap. Even then, keep to the route.”
Jess ducked his head in acknowledgment. He knew the route. He knew all the routes, all the runs that his family held against competitors throughout the vast city of London. He’d trained since he was old enough to walk, clasping the hand of his father and then later toddling behind his older brother, Liam.
Liam was dead now. He’d been seventeen when he was taken in by the London Garda for running books. His family hadn’t stepped up to identify him. He’d kept the family’s code. He’d kept his silence to the end.
And as a reward for that loyalty, the city of London had tossed him in an unmarked pit, along with other unclaimed criminals. Liam had been seventeen, and Jess was now ten, and he had no idea how he was supposed to live up to that legend.
“Da—” He was risking another slap, or worse, but he took a deep breath and said, “Today’s a bad day to be running—you said that yourself. The Garda are out in force. Why can’t this wait?”
Callum Brightwell looked above his son’s head, at the sturdy wall of the warehouse. This was one of many bolt-holes he kept for rarities and, of course, the rarest treasures of all, books. Real, original books, shelves and crates full. He was a wealthy, clever man, but in that moment, with the light coming harsh on him through a high, mullioned window, he looked twice his age.
“Just get on with it. I’ll expect you back in two hours. Don’t be late or I’ll get the cane.” His father suddenly scowled. “If you see your feckless brother, tell him I’m waiting, and there’ll be hell to pay. He’s on the cutters today.”
Even though Jess and Brendan had been born as identical twins, they couldn’t have been more different inside. Jess was bold; Brendan tended to be shy. Jess was self-contained; Brendan was prone to explosions of violence.
Jess was a runner. Brendan . . . was a schemer.
Jess knew exactly where Brendan was; he could see him, hiding up on the thin second-floor catwalk, clinging to an old ladder that ran toward the roof. Brendan had been watching, as was his habit. He liked to be up high, away from where Da could lay hands on him, and he liked to avoid risking his hide as a runner when he could.
“If I see him, I’ll tell him,” he said, and stared hard right at his brother. Get down here, you little shite. Brendan responded by silently swarming up the ladder into the darkness. He’d already worked out that Jess was the one running the prize today. Knowing Brendan, he’d decided that his skin was worth more than just acting as his brother’s decoy.
“Well?” his father said sharply. “What are you waiting for, a kiss from your mam? Get on with you!”
He pushed Jess toward the massive reinforced warehouse door, which was opened by three silent men; Jess didn’t know them, tried not to learn their names because they died quick in that line of work. He paused and took deep, quick breaths. Getting ready. He spotted the mob of cutters ranged about in the alley and on the street beyond; kids, his age or younger, all ready to run their routes.
They were waiting only for him.
He let out a wild war cry and set off at a sprint. The other cutters took it up as a cheer, thin arms and legs pumping, darting between the startled pedestrians in their workaday clothes. Several lunged out into the street, which was a hazardous adventure; they darted between steam carriages and ignored the angry shouts of the drivers. The cutters re-formed into a mob of twelve or so kids at the next corner, and Jess stuck with them for the first part of the route. It was safer in numbers, as the streets got cleaner and the passersby better dressed. Four long blocks of homes and businesses, then a right turn at a tavern already doing good business even so early in the morning; smooth running, until a hard-looking man darted out from a greengrocer and yanked a girl out of his crew by her long hair. She’d made herself too easy to grab; most of the girls knotted up their hair on top of their heads or shaved it short.
Jess had to fight his urge to slow down and help her.
The girl screamed and fought, but the big man wrestled her to the curb and backhanded her into a heap. “Damn cutters!” he yelled. “Garda! Garda! Runners on the loose!”
That tore it. Always some busybody do-gooder trying to save the day, was what Jess’s father always said; that’s why he sent the cutters in packs, most with worthless decoy trash in their harnesses. The Garda rarely scored, but when they did, they paid any informants off rich who put them on the trail of the smugglers.
Citizens turned, eyes avid with the idea of free cash, and Jess tucked his chin down and ran.
The cutters wheeled and broke up and re-formed like a flock of birds. Some carried knives and used them when grabbed; it was chancy to do that, very chancy, because if a kid was caught with a bloody knife it’d be the rope for sure, whether it was a flesh wound on the man he’d cut or a mortal blow. The boy to Jess’s left—too big to be running, though he was probably younger than Jess’s age—veered straight into a wall of oncoming drunks. He had a knife and slashed with it; Jess saw a bright ribbon of blood arcing in the air and then didn’t look back.
He couldn’t. He had to concentrate on escape.
His route split at the next corner; they’d all break up now, running separately to draw the Garda’s numbers thin . . . or at least, that was the plan.
What happened was that when Jess reached the corner, there were Garda bunched up on his route. They spotted him and let out a fierce, angry yell.
He made an instant decision he knew his da would beat him black for making: he left the route.
He almost banged into two other cutters as he veered right; they gave him identically startled looks, and one yelled at him to get off their patch. He ignored her, and despite the ache growing in his chest, the smothering drag of the book, he put on a new burst of speed and outpaced them both.
He heard a cry behind him and glanced back to see that the Garda were pouring out from alleyways. Bloody lobsters in their grimy red coats. They swiftly caught the others.
Not Jess, though. Not yet.
He dodged down a dark, twisting passage too narrow to even be named an alley; even as small as he was, his shoulders brushed brick on both sides. A rusted nail caught at his shirt and ripped the sleeve, and for a heart-stopping second he thought the leather of his harness might catch, but he kept moving. Couldn’t go fast now, because of the inky darkness in the shadows, but his nose told him it was a popular dumping ground for rotting fish. The bricks felt slimy and cold under his fingers.
He could still hear the Garda hue and cry behind him, but they couldn’t fit their thick bodies through this warren, and for a moment, as he spotted a thin slice of light at the end, he wasn’t so sure he could fit either. It narrowed and narrowed, until he had to turn sideways and edge along with the rough brick tearing at his clothes. The book wedged him in as tight as a cork in a bottle, and he fought the urge to panic.
Think. You can get out of this.
He let out his breath and flattened his chest as much as he could, and it gained him the extra half inch he needed to edge free of the crush.
He stumbled out between two fancy buildings onto a wide, clean street he knew he should recognize, and yet it seemed odd, out of place . . . until it snapped into focus.
He’d come out only three blocks from his family’s town house, where his mother and father took such pains looking gentrified. If he was seized here, there’d be some who’d know him on sight, and that would mean much, much worse for not just him; his whole family would be brought down. He had to get out of here. Now.
He rushed out into the street, directly under the wheels of a steam carriage, and into the darkness of another alley. It led in the right direction but twisted wrong soon enough. He’d not explored all the alleys near his home; he had enough to do with the routes the runners used. That was why his father had always ordered him to keep to the route—because it was so easy to be lost in complicated London, and getting lost while carrying contraband could be deadly.
At the next street he spotted a landmark a few blocks away: the glittering dome of St. Paul’s Serapeum, the physical presence of the Great Library in London, and one of the largest daughter libraries in Europe. It was beautiful and deadly, and he averted his eyes and made a vow to never, never go that way.
But he didn’t have a choice.
A Garda emerged from a doorway, clapped eyes on him, and shouted. Behind his pointing finger, the Garda was young, maybe the age Liam had been when he’d taken the rope. This young man was blond and had a weak chin, and his secondhand uniform fit about as well as Jess’s disguise.
But he was fast. Too fast. As Jess took off running he heard the slap of the Garda’s feet behind him, and the shrill, urgent toot of his whistle. They’d be coming from all around him. If they boxed him in here . . .
He took the only clear path out of danger. It was another dark, cramped alley, but the Garda was no side of beef and slipped through almost as easily as Jess did. Jess had to keep running, though his weary lungs were pumping fire, and the long legs of the Garda gained on him when they reached open street again. The watery London sunshine seemed to beat down on Jess’s head, and he was dripping with sweat. He was terrified that he might damage the book with it.
Not as terrified as he was of being caught, though.
More whistles. The Garda closed in.
Jess had no choice at all. They were driving him in one direction—toward the Serapeum. If he could get past the Garda barricades there, it was Library territory and under entirely different laws. The London Garda couldn’t trespass without clearances.
Up ahead, he saw the orange-and-black wood of the Garda barricade across the street, and the line of supplicants waiting to have their credentials checked. Jess pulled for his last reserves of speed, because that damned rabbit-heeled Garda was close enough to brush fingers on his shirt. He lurched forward, aimed for a hole in the crowd, and threw himself bodily forward toward the barricade. As the Garda behind him yelled for help, Jess grabbed the painted tiger-striped wood and vaulted over it in one smooth motion, hit the ground running on the other side, and heard the shouts of surprise and dismay echoing behind him. Someone laughed and yelled at him to keep going, and he grinned fiercely and risked a look back.
The Garda had stopped at the barricade—or, at least, one of his fellows had stopped him by getting in his way and holding him back. The two were scuffling, the younger man shouting angrily. His blood was still up from the chase, or he’d have had more sense. Jess knew he didn’t have long; they’d be sending a message to the High Garda, the elite guards of the Library, to intercept him. He needed to get through, and fast.
The street ahead had but fifty people on foot, including at least ten Scholars stalking in their billowing black robes. No steam carriages; they weren’t permitted here anymore, not since the Library had closed this road to through traffic. The golden dome rose serene and gleaming overhead, and below it, a waterfall of steps flowed down from it.
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