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Book Review: The Library at Mount Char

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The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

The Library at Mount Char

I always include the ad copy for books I review. It reminds me not to waste your time rehashing stuff you can get any old where. This here’s a disclaimer. Skip the ad copy that follows and go right to the review. I’ll even offset it. Or, really, skip the review and go to a retailer or a library and get yourself a copy of the book.

A missing God.
A library with the secrets to the universe.
A woman too busy to notice her heart slipping away.

Carolyn’s not so different from the other people around her. She likes guacamole and cigarettes and steak. She knows how to use a phone. Clothes are a bit tricky, but everyone says nice things about her outfit with the Christmas sweater over the gold bicycle shorts.

After all, she was a normal American herself once.

That was a long time ago, of course. Before her parents died. Before she and the others were taken in by the man they called Father.

In the years since then, Carolyn hasn’t had a chance to get out much. Instead, she and her adopted siblings have been raised according to Father’s ancient customs. They’ve studied the books in his Library and learned some of the secrets of his power. And sometimes, they’ve wondered if their cruel tutor might secretly be God.

Now, Father is missing—perhaps even dead—and the Library that holds his secrets stands unguarded. And with it, control over all of creation.

As Carolyn gathers the tools she needs for the battle to come, fierce competitors for this prize align against her, all of them with powers that far exceed her own.

But Carolyn has accounted for this.

And Carolyn has a plan.

The only trouble is that in the war to make a new God, she’s forgotten to protect the things that make her human.

Populated by an unforgettable cast of characters and propelled by a plot that will shock you again and again, The Library at Mount Char is at once horrifying and hilarious, mind-blowingly alien and heartbreakingly human, sweepingly visionary and nail-bitingly thrilling—and signals the arrival of a major new voice in fantasy.

This is another Kameron Hurley suggestion. I haven’t read everything she’s recommended since I fell for The Mirror Empire, but I’m getting pretty confident that doing do would be a good way to populate a to-read pile.

I requested the book without reading the description. The cover was arresting and I took a look inside at the chapter titles. That’s honestly what sold me. Here’s Part I:

  1. Sunrise
  2. Buddhism for Assholes
  3. The Denial that Shreds
  4. Thunder
  5. The Luckiest Chicken in the World
  6. About Half a Fuckton of Lying-Ass Lies

So there’s some colorful language. It’s quite funny. There’s mystery and bombast. There’re hints of unreliability and archetypal symbology. You know, in the table of contents.

This book is playful and smart and tight. It opens on an American highway with a barefoot librarian clearing her head after murdering a detective with an obsidian knife. Looking back to make sure I wasn’t spoiling more than a few sentences, I ended up reading through “Sunrise” again. There’s some subtle alchemy at work there.

The Library at Mount Char explores the confrontations between temporal and spiritual powers, between enigma and conspiracy, between monstrosity and sacrifice. And it’s ever so difficult to try to explain all that without ruining some of the joy of simply reading the story as it proceeds to weave disparate plots and subplots together into an intricate tapestry of earthy and unearthly events and emotions.

Astute readers will recognize elements of a dozen mythologies from the Titans and Olympians to the Old and New Testaments to the Aztec and Navajo. And there are honestly hints of more. The world of the novel is as big as the universe and as broad as time. The library represents tens of thousands of years of knowledge and we see only a fraction of it.

Carolyn, the lead from the opening pages, is one of twelve children adopted as apprentices to a man they call “Father” following a cataclysmic event during their childhood. Each is master of a particular catalog or sphere of influence and they’re more less demigods or super humans. There’s a scientific, methodical cast to their abilities, however, reminiscent of Warren Ellis’s Planetary.  If you’re interested, Hawkins provides a primer on the librarians over at Suvudu. It’s not in the book. And it’s not necessary. But it’s good reading.

My guess is that readers of Alan Moore and Grant Morrison will have as much fun with The Library at Mount Char as those of Kameron Hurley and Robert Jackson Bennett. Scott Hawkins delivers bold ideas at an incredible pace and keeps them in play with deft, clever hands. You might figure out bits here and there, but you’ll certainly be surprised as well. It was a joy to read and I’m sure I’ll revisit it again and again.

Recommended for fans of The Three Body Problem, Sandman: The Kindly Ones, and Anathem.

 

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