I received this book for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
Published by Crown/Archetype on 2016-03
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy, Contemporary, Dark Fantasy, Horror
Format: Print ARC
Source: Blogging for Books
Buy on Amazon
Imagine the epic drama of various mythologies playing out in modern day Virginia suburbs. The Library at Mount Char is a darkly humorous story set in a strange and unique world where anything can happen. It can get really gruesome, so it is not for the faint-hearted!
“You can adjust to almost anything.”
Carolyn has lived at the Library, the hub of all knowledge, since she was eight years old. She and eleven other librarians have been under the tutelage of Father, a mysterious man who might be a god. Each librarian has their own catalog to study and they are forbidden to share information with each other. One day Father disappears without a trace and the librarians lose access to the Library. Father has many enemies. Was he abducted or murdered? Will whoever harmed him come after the librarians next? Or did Father abandon them? Carolyn recruits an unsuspecting plumber named Steve to help them solve the mystery, so they can plan their next move.
“When [Father] disappeared he was working on something called regression completeness,” Peter said. “It’s the notion that the universe is structured in such a way that no matter how many mysteries you solve, there is always a deeper mystery behind it.”
Hawkins created his own unique mythology for this book, which made it a really fun world to explore. The story is told via the alternating perspectives of Carolyn, Steve, and a tough-talking Homeland Security agent named Erwin. It has an equal balance of darkness and humor. The writing style reminded me of Ready Player One and The Martian–the dialogue style, the sense of humor, and the straightforward storytelling. It is really engaging and entertaining. I can’t go too much into the details of the book because all of the surprise weirdness is part of the fun!
The Atul had been linguistically isolated. Their grammar was nearly impenetratable, and they had some exotic cultural norms. One such was the notion of uzan-iya, which was what they called the moment when an innocent heart first contemplated the act of murder. To the Atul, the crime itself was secondary to this initial corruption.
(1) The author plops you down in this unusual world without any explanation. I found great comfort in knowing that I was supposed to be in the dark! The actual sequence of events is easy to follow, but the rules of the world and character motivations were slowly revealed over the entire course of the almost 400-page novel. Anything can happen and it does. (Except magic, that’s just silly!) Just go with the flow and know that your questions will be answered…eventually. For me, that started around page 230 but I can be a little slow to figure things out!
(2) It can get very gory and violent: “ropey guts dangling from fluorescents,” decapitated heads, immolation, etc. Anytime David appears in a scene, there is a good chance that it is about to get messy!
(3) In the beginning, I was overly concerned with keeping track of all the librarians and their catalogs. That wasn’t necessary, because only a few of the librarians play a significant role in the story: Carolyn (Language) and David (Murder/War), and to a lesser extent Michael (Animals), Jennifer (Healing) and Margeret (Death/Afterlife). If you are interested in keeping track of the other librarians, I found this spoiler-free character guide written by the author very helpful.
(4) I loved the concept of a heart coal, the memory that a person holds onto for comfort(warmth) and survival when their world has reached its darkest, coldest point. “Faint comfort is better than no comfort at all.”
“The problem with a heart coal is that the memory always diverges from the actual thing. She remembers an idealized version of her son. She’s forgotten that he was selfish, that he enjoyed giving little offenses. … If he came back now it wouldn’t help. He would be gone again soon enough, only this time she would no longer have the comfort of the illusion.”
There are a few things that bothered me, but those things did not detract from my overall enjoyment of the book. These are the kinds of things I like to read after I’m finished with a book or to help me through a part that I am struggling with, so this next section is skippable!
(1) After we find out what happened to Father and witness the fallout from that reveal, the book continues for another 100 pages and we discover the answers to the remaining mysteries (View Spoiler »Carolyn’s backstory and her connection with Steve « Hide Spoiler). This last quarter is the only part where I started to resent answers being withheld for so long. I didn’t understand why Carolyn was fixated on Steve, so I lost interest View Spoiler »during his captivity « Hide Spoiler in those pages. I also felt ‘meh’ towards Carolyn the entire book. I think if had a fuller picture of her history earlier, I think I would have had deeper, more conflicted feelings towards her. I did connect strongly with Steve and his tenaciously loyal lions. (I told you this book was weird!)
(2) Some of Father’s enemies were mentioned with enough specificity and frequency that I was expecting some of them to play a bigger part, but they were relegated to the background. View Spoiler »I was expecting some kind of big boss battle with tentacle monster Barry O’Shea. « Hide Spoiler
(3) Occasionally unnatural dialogue. I didn’t write down any examples, but it was mostly a case of things that are common in speaking sounding weird in the written format.
“With this particular species of crazy, you stop trying to make things better. You start trying to maximize the bad. You pretend to like it. Eventually you start working to make everything as bad as possible. It’s an avoidance mechanism. It can’t actually work. … That’s why they call it crazy.”
During the time I was reading this book, a tiger named Nala was found roaming the streets of a nearby town. I was much more suspicious of this event than I would have been under normal circumstances! 😉 The Library at Mount Char is very strange and entertaining story about the dangers of letting our pain consume us. I was really impressed by how all the crazy threads were tied up. I love the author’s imagination! I rounded up from 3.5 to 4 Stars, because I will absolutely read whatever crazy thing Hawkins publishes next! I hope that there will eventually be another book set in this world.
“In the service of my will, I have emptied myself.”
Other points of interest:
Guest Post: The Mythological Roots of The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins | Scott Hawkins Reddit AMA #1 | Scott Hawkins Reddit AMA #2
My favorite part of the first AMA is where he talks about using his natural voice, after spending too much time sounding “grownup and writery.” Intersting to consider in any creative endeavor.
My favorite passage of the book:
She was crying. Steve didn’t stop her, didn’t try to say anything. There was nothing to say.
As the days and weeks and seasons wore on he found himself repeating this nothing, not wanting to. Gradually he came to understand that this particular nothing was all that he could really say now. He chanted it to himself in cell blocks and dingy apartments, recited it like a litany, ripped himself to rags against the sharp and ugly poetry of it. It echoed down the grimy hallways and squandered moments of his life, the answer to every question, the lyric of all songs.