What worked: I loved this alternative world where the Great Library uses alchemy to deliver the content of any great work in history instantly. Only problem is that the Library has ultimate control. There's so many great things in this story that have a steampunk flavor but are unique in their own way. The whole idea that a library is in total control of any type of knowledge and of books is frightening. Jess loves books and hates how his father sends him to the library in order to spy. He doesn't like being part of the smuggling ring but knows he has to do what he needs to in order not to be cut off from his family.
Jess struggles with one early experience of smuggling out a priceless book only to witness how some are so corrupt with power they are driven to actually eat the book. Love this scene where an ink-eater, tears the pages from the book and tells ten-year-old Jess basically that there was no act of possession more complete than consuming the unique. That image stays with Jess and he records in his own journal that no one reads. At least that is private.
The library training ground kind of reminded me of a darker Harry Potter where the trials and tests can lead not only to being kicked out but worse. There are only six spaces available. Each of the postulates are bright and driven to succeed. They also have their own secrets.
There's suspense, adventure, the grittiness of war and loss, betrayal, secrets, and more! The build up to the final reveal has Jess confront the very thing he fears.
Fascinating new series with an alternative history where the Library of Alexandria still exists and the few brave enough to stand up to the controlling power that means to silence them. Highly recommended!