The Book That Wouldn’t Burn by Mark Lawrence
Runestone, volume 10
The Book That Wouldn’t Burn
by Mark Lawrence
Runestone, volume 10
Reviewed by Morgan Marks
The Book That Wouldn’t Burn is a story about books and the people who read them. Evar is a boy who has lived inside of a massive library for his entire life, raised by its attendants around the ancient and unknowably large collection of literature. Together with a new arrival, young refugee Livira, Evar must explore the furthest reaches of his home and uncover whatever secrets it may be hiding.
Veteran fantasy author Mark Lawrence‘s mastery of the genre is on full display here. With a clear talent for world-building and writing characters who are so far removed from regular human experience and yet feel not unlike us, he draws the reader into his world effortlessly. The great library and the world around it feel real and lived in, even as the concepts get higher and the philosophy loftier.
The Book That Wouldn’t Burn is at its best in the exploration of its primary setting. The library is grand, expansive and never boring, and the developing relationship between the two principal characters is authentic and believable despite its strangeness. As the book explores themes of memory, nostalgia and the value of knowledge, it peaks narratively and thematically around the end of the first half.
This is not to say that the back half of the book is bad, simply lesser than its fantastic beginning. As the scope of the novel widens and Lawrence begins to focus more on filling out the broader world that he is creating, the narrative stays well-plotted and thrilling. Thematically, however, the back half of the book seems to bite off a bit more than it can chew, tackling lofty concepts like literary bias, xenophobia and misinformation with a bit less time and gravitas than they deserve. As the first of a trilogy, one can’t help but consider that some of this content could have been saved for the sequel.
At its best, The Book That Wouldn’t Burn is a beautiful exploration of what makes books and, by proxy, knowledge itself so valuable. It is about the importance of public archives and the nature of memory, and when it isn’t stretching itself too thin, it touches upon these core themes beautifully.
If you are a lover of good fantasy or if these themes strike you as particularly relevant in the modern day (as they did for me) I recommend this book highly. Clocking in at nearly six hundred pages, it stays engaging throughout its run, even when it begins to flounder thematically. Strong characters and well-explored core themes make this a book that belongs on the shelf of anyone who enjoys a good fantasy adventure. Pick it up if you’re able despite your “to be read” pile, because, as Lawrence puts so succinctly, “It’s always the books you don’t have that call to you, you know that. Not the ones on your shelf. They can wait.”
MORGAN MARKS is a junior and a creative writing major at Hamline University. When they aren’t writing, they can often be found playing some sort of fighting game or tabletop RPG.