“The Library at Mount Char” is, without a doubt, one of the most interesting and unique books that I have read in quite some time. In a year in which we have seen and will see some fantastic and long-awaited releases, “The Library” may just, albeit quietly, assume the position of best fiction book I’ve read in 2018.
The novel immediately thrusts you into the strange world of Carolyn, a young woman who serves as a librarian for a collection of the world’s greatest secrets – recorded by her “Father.” Once an orphan, Father took Carolyn (as well as her “brothers” and “sisters”) in as a child to train her to become a master of the text. Sounds cozy, but it isn’t. Father is cruel and unbending, and the torturous techniques that he uses in the name of disciplining his children are downright ghastly. After years of abuse, Carolyn decides to take matters into her own hands, enlisting the help of the unknowing Stever, Erwin, and – yes, strange as may be – lions.
The idea of magic and apprentices of the mystical arts is nothing new. However, Scott Hawkins manages to inject originality into the tale. The fantastical, coupled with the wit and stylistic writing techniques of Hawkins, kept me amused and interested (even when confused). And yes, there is some confusion in this novel. The unique blend of magic, mythos, physics, and cunning left me reaching at times, and you’re never truly clued in as to how the universe works. Fortunately, Steve doesn’t understand either – his confusion throughout his narrative bridges the gap between the reader and the surreal world. Which, of course, means he’s easily one of my favorite characters in this book. It’s an impressive feat in a story with a lot of characters that you quickly want to care about.
Reading other reviews, a common criticism is that the book contains striking – and maybe overboard – violent scenes throughout its entirety. Undoubtedly, they are disturbing, and can be offputting to some readers. All the same, I’d argue that they’re important. At it’s core, “The Library” addresses one of the most persisting questions in life: is it possible to maintain one’s humanity in the face of prolonged disaster and violence, or even in the wake of rising to power? And if so, how? Without truly understanding the horrors that the characters have faced, we can’t really understand them or the motivating drive behind their decisions – at least not beyond the surface. As such, their quest would no longer serve up as meaningful of an answer.
Simply put, this was one of the first books in a long time to really blow my mind. It’s deep, confusing, funny, and philosophical – all at once. Due to the violence, I can only tentatively recommend this one to my readers… But if you dare to take the plunge, you won’t be disappointed.