Books, Reviews

REVIEW | The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins: Dark & Uniquely Fantastical

REVIEW | The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins: Dark & Uniquely FantasticalThe Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
Published by Crown on June 16th 2015
Genre: Fantasy & Sci-Fi
388 pages
Goodreads page

Summary from Goodreads:

Neil Gaiman meets Joe Hill in this astonishingly original, terrifying, and darkly funny contemporary fantasy.

Carolyn's not so different from the other human beings around her. She's sure of it. She likes guacamole and cigarettes and steak. She knows how to use a phone. She even remembers what clothes are for.

After all, she was a normal American herself, once.

That was a long time ago, of course—before the time she calls “adoption day,” when she and a dozen other children found themselves being raised by a man they learned to call Father.

Father could do strange things. He could call light from darkness. Sometimes he raised the dead. And when he was disobeyed, the consequences were terrible.

In the years since Father took her in, Carolyn hasn't gotten out much. Instead, she and her adopted siblings have been raised according to Father's ancient Pelapi customs. They've studied the books in his library and learned some of the secrets behind his equally ancient power.
Sometimes, they've wondered if their cruel tutor might secretly be God.
Now, Father is missing. And if God truly is dead, the only thing that matters is who will inherit his library—and with it, power over all of creation.

As Carolyn gathers the tools she needs for the battle to come, fierce competitors for this prize align against her. But Carolyn can win. She's sure of it. What she doesn't realize is that her victory may come at an unacceptable price—because in becoming a God, she's forgotten a great deal about being human.

This is a very, very strange novel – but it’s totally worth muddling through the initial confusion. Carolyn and her ‘siblings’ were adopted and raised by an immensely powerful entity they call Father; now, like him, they are Librarians, each the master of his/her own ‘catalog’ of magic. Chaos ensues when Father goes missing. It’s a continually unravelling mystery, with new bizarre elements added seemingly every page.

The worldbuilding is the best part

Without spoilers, here’s a taste of what’s in store for you in this book: the suburban undead; vengeful lions; mind-bending pseudoscientific explanations for magic; tentacled abominations of the deep; guns and helicopters; variations on the Book of Genesis and possibly Mesopotamian myth; parallel worlds that never were; uncountable resurrections of the dead. (Fair warning: along with all this delightful absurdity comes a good amount of gore and some depiction of sexual assault, so be wary if these are things that bother you.)

Scott Hawkins writes excellent prose: it’s filled with wry humor, spare in just the right places, and masterful at foreshadowing. He’s got a good ear for character psychology: the Librarians, who have had some of their humanity tortured away from them, have appropriately bizarre interpersonal relations.

My advice to readers of this book: keep reading. All the pieces, no matter how disjointed, fall into place eventually. And there’s a twist you definitely won’t see coming.

A few disappointments along the way

The Library at Mount Char hints at a vast and fantastic world, but we see so little of it! At times I appreciated the intentional gaps, written to be filled in by the reader’s imagination – intentional omissions can deepen the sense of mystery – but ultimately I wanted much more magic than I was given. Tell me more about the other Library catalogs! Tell me about the powerful beings alluded to twice but never again! Sadly, the author indicates no interest in writing a sequel. I’ll have to make do with the scraps of this magical world I was given, spare though they may be.

I wasn’t fully satisfied with the character development, either. It doesn’t make much sense for Carolyn to funnel all her anger at David, rather than saving the bulk of it for Father, the one who tortured the once-sweet boy into becoming a sadistic killing machine.

I really wanted to see much more of Carolyn’s interactions with her ‘siblings’ – especially with Michael, her closest friend among them. I would gladly have traded some ‘screen-time’ of their strong platonic friendship for, say, half of the time spent with Erwin, an American war hero. (I didn’t give two shits about Erwin. He was comedic but flat and very, very annoying.)

Despite these frustrations, I’d still recommend this book – particularly to any fantasy-lovers with a strong stomach for violence!

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  • Reply Tash November 17, 2015 at 9:37 am

    I enjoyed getting my mind bent by this fantasy for adults novel. Looks like you did too. I would’ve loved to read more about the other siblings’ portfolio though.

    • Paloma
      Reply Paloma November 17, 2015 at 10:41 am

      I KNOW, right? You can’t just tell me about Alicia’s black candle ” still burning as it had
      in the golden ruin at the end of time”… and then never elaborate! So tantalizing. Lisa’s catalog, as far as we know, was… touch-people-on-the-cheek-for-mind-control? And there were two siblings (Emily and Jacob) about whose catalogs we learn nothing at all.

  • Reply Ksenia @ Ksenia's Book Blog November 19, 2015 at 5:37 am

    This is not my usual genre, but I’m intrigued. Great review, Paloma! You got me at wry humor and masterfully done foreshadowing. PS. And the cover is gorgeous!
    Ksenia @ Ksenia’s Book Blog recently posted…Review: Crimson Bound by Rosamund HodgeMy Profile

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