Book Review | The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

the-library-at-mount-char-book-review-paiges-pagesTITLE: The Library at Mount Char
AUTHOR: Scott Hawkins
PUBLISHER: Crown
RELEASE DATE: June 16, 2015
GENRE: Adult Fantasy, Action
PAGE COUNT: 390


The Library at Mount Char is an epic and irreverent debut novel, fusing the action thriller genre with fantasy.  

As a child, Carolyn was selected to become one of Father’s students in the mysterious Library.  Each assigned to a catalog, the librarians mastered various superhuman talents. Now, with Father missing and the Library left unguarded, Carolyn is preparing to fight for ultimate control.  Her quest will lead her into hilarious misadventures and unspeakable horrors.  

“However deeply you understand the universe, however many mysteries you solve, there will always be another, deeper mystery behind it” – page 368

The Library at Mount Char takes us on a zany journey, proving just how small we are in the universe.  Armed with supernatural skills, the librarians are a band of quirky characters out of touch with the everyday world.  Our anti-hero Carolyn is fluent in every imaginable language, be it human, animal, or even the vocabulary of storms.

After usurping the role of God centuries ago, Father is the librarians’ immortal leader.  Some readers may find this representation of religion problematic – Father’s violent punishments result in the librarians’ hatred.  The body horror in several scenes may disturb some readers, not least of all because the librarians view violence with apathy.

“They came to understand that Father had lived for a very long time.  More, over the course of this long life, he had mastered the crafting of wonders.  He could call down lightning, or stop time.  Stones spoke to him by name.  The theory and practice of these crafts were organised into twelve catalogs – one for each child, as it happened.  All he asked was that they be diligent about their studies – page 6

As The Library at Mount Char is a suspense-driven novel, we often see through the eyes of everyday people who have just as many questions as we do – the “Americans”, as the librarians call them.  Steve, a faux-Buddhist and smartarse, is our primary point of view.  As a pawn in Carolyn’s master plan, Steve is soon past the point of no return.  His perspective provides a sense of humour to this otherwise dark novel.

Unfortunately, I didn’t connect to the characters.  Although the pace and suspense compelled me, I wasn’t invested.  A lot of the voices sound the same, which makes it hard to tell them apart.  Also, info-dumping dialogue is often dragged out or “babied down”, with the effect of making the characters sound younger than they are.  While the librarians all have intriguing traits, their personalities weren’t deep enough to be believable.

Another aspect I had trouble with was deus ex machina – a plot device in which chance/fate rescues the story from a dead end.  I realised later on that most of these details would be resolved meaningfully.  However, until I realised they were purposeful, I found them irritating and unconvincing.  Combined with the librarians’ apathetic attitudes, this made me feel like nothing really mattered enough for me to care.

The Library at Mount Char reminds me of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, but with better pacing and a more complicated narrative.  This is an imperfect but extremely inventive fantasy.  

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