Book Review: The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

Once again, I broke my goal of reading non-white or non-male authors. Sorry, internet. I gave into the mainstream. However, I wasn’t as disappointed in this go-round, as I was my last lapse. My only excuse, says the librarian, is LIBRARY. Library at Mount Char.

I give this book 4/5 stars. 

The brief: Hawkins’s syntactical craft is perfection. His character development well-done, though somehow shallow and almost disappointing. His plot pacing was borderline terrible, as there could have been over three different times this disjointed novel might have ended. However, the verdict is this: This is a fantastic debut novel.

The synopsis:

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.
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.

For people who haven’t read the book yet:

So, there are librarians. Which are like a Pantheon of gods, with Father as the head big-G God (maybe? Who knows? The fact that it’s so open is one of the things I love about it). But really, they were all mortals once, even father. Why they aren’t called “scholars” instead of librarians, I do not know. There’s not a lot of organizing of information going on, just gatekeeping said information. Which is fine and works. I guess I’m not as against it as I thought. Moving on.

I don’t think it’s fair that this novel is called genre-defying or whatever. As if it’s TOO UNIQUE to fit into any category. Only white men get such praise. This isn’t horror. It wasn’t scary. It had a bit of gore and violence in it, yes. But let’s take it for what it is. It’s fantasy. And it’s better fantasy than anything Neil Gaiman or Joe Hill have written. That’s for damn sure.

At one point, the story breaks the accountability rule–it breaks reality and plausibility. And by that I don’t mean “There’s magic in it so it couldn’t happen in real life!” I mean that the magic becomes headline news that people like you or me would definitely notice (the sun literally goes out and the world starts to freeze). So, the reader is forced to acknowledge that “This hasn’t happened, so it’s not real and therefore the story is less believable for me” or forced to consider it as another, say, “Timeline” or so on and therefore the story’s automatically less believable because we can’t put it in our own “world.” This always bothers me. Perhaps because I find it lazy writing, not working within the constraints of the author’s chosen world (and being so lazy to toss his readers aside as participating characters–I want to live in a world were Carolyn and Father COULD exist!). But perhaps this is a rant for another time.

I’m only so upset about that above-mentioned part because I was entirely drawn in. What little we know about the characters is fascinating. I can’t necessarily tell you their hair color or race (I’m guessing mostly white), but I feel like I know them well enough. Speaking of race, Hawkins describes the one “slight Indian” cab driver character as “having caramel-colored skin.” Dear Hawkins, let’s keep the describing persons of color as food in check for the sequel.

But enough of my complaints. What did I love about this book? I loved that one of the “bad guys” wears a tutu and pronounces Steve as “Esheeeeetve” because none of the librarians (except Carolyn) really speak English. I love that the bull that Father uses to cook and punish-roast the children (only to bring them back to life) is like the golden calf. I loved the honest cruelty in the book, and the originality. I loved the lions as characters (go animal rights!). And, most of all, I loved the library.

For people who HAVE read the book (SPOILERS): 

One of the hardest things for me to move past in this story is Erwin being an art teacher. That was just too far-fetched for me, for some reason. Too silly.

I didn’t like that the (arguably) first plot twist (Carolyn killed Father!) was so easy to predict and so clearly not the main point of the story, given the many pages left to read still. I also guessed that Father was perhaps training Carolyn to replace him, because how else would this story end, with that many pages left? The other few unsurprising surprises was that 1) Father sacrificed is “only” son David for Carolyn. Too Biblical there. 2) Carolyn and Steve go way back. Clearly she liked him, given that she said she loved him for no good reason. 3) Steve would kill himself so many times in Carolyn’s care to protest her (THAT was actually surprising and the best part about this story, so never mind).

I kind of liked the cliff hanger ending, with Erwin in jail and the world still going to shit. I’ll definitely be reading the sequel, which I’m assuming the cliff hanger set up perfectly.

Books similar to this one: The Magicians by Lev Grossman. Vicious by V.E. Schwab. The Automation by Anonymous.

What others have said (and that I agree with):

“This book also climaxes too fast, with the last third of the novel being falling action from the big confrontation. Don’t get me wrong, we need that falling action because that’s when the most interesting parts of the library are shown, but very little actually happens during that last 120 pages or so.
“The Library at Mount Char is a nearly perfect example of dark adult fantasy done right. Scott Hawkins does so many things right. He wastes no time with a long setup or back story, instead, he drops us right into this world that may be one like ours or not and leaves it up to us to catch up as things progress.
It’s in the second part that the book slipped from a steady 4-4.5 stars for me, because it suddenly stopped making a logical kind of sense, as much as you can apply logic to the premise of the book. The motivations of the lead protagonist(s) didn’t make sense, and there was a lot of “You just have to trust me” comments.


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