Review: The Library at Mount Char - Scott Hawkins
Genre: Fantasy, Horror
Published: Titan Books, originally published in June 2015
Actual Rating: 4.5/5 stars
“Step into the darkness with me, child... I will make of you a God.”
The Library at Mount Char had become a bit of a TBR-resident, as a book I’ve been equal parts interested and intimidated by since its release. I had heard a lot of mixed things, mainly complaints about the story being too weird and hard to get into, leading me to put it off for so long. Let me tell you: I was doing myself a disservice, as this was my kind of weird. It all begins with a missing God, his not-quite-human daughter, and a regular Joe (actually named Steve) framed for his murder… What follows is a tale that is fast paced, dark, delicious and wholly unique in world, characters and story. I absolutely loved this wild ride from start to finish.
Hawkins shows an incredible amount of confidence and trust in the reader from the get-go, dropping you off in medias res and leaving you little time to acclimatize to the bizarre world that is unfolding around you. No time is wasted on introductions, or explaining the rules to this strange pantheon of demi-gods he’s created, and the metaphysical game of 6D-chess they’ve been caught up in for decades. Instead he introduces the game: incomprehensible universal power. He introduces the players: the Pelapi, children of the library, each with a unique “catalogue” of skills, and each a little less (or should I say more>) than human themselves. He drops you in alongside his favourite pawn and let’s you figure the rest out for yourself.
It's a risky choice (especially for a debut author!) but when done well it’s my favourite way of “worldbuilding”. And done well it was; like many other readers I was often confused, but never lost and always intrigued to see where the story would go next.
“Are you a Buddhist?” “No. I’m an asshole. But I keep trying.”
Apart from the plot and the world, what makes this book so memorable is its completely bonkers cast of characters. None of which are your typical fantasy-hero, and all of which you’ll either love to hate or hate to love. Take David; the hulking embodiment of combat, war and violence, all wrapped up in a pink tutu. Or Jenifer; the gentle-hearted healer who dips into her own medicine a bit too often to soothe her own pain. Or Carolyn; master of all languages (human and otherwise), who still fails spectacularly at actual communication. Or Naga; who is a moody lion… No literally; one of our more likable protagonists is an actual lion.
Their interactions lead to a number of absurdist situations and dialogues that in the hands of another author might have become too cookie but, in Hawkins’ quick and effortless voice, were genuinely funny.
My two complaints that robbed the book of its final half-a-star for me came to light near the end. Firstly, the final “reveal” hinges upon some wonky character-motivation that I couldn’t really understand.
. Secondly, and sort of following from the first one: there’s quite a lot of violence inflicted upon the (female) characters in this story, some of which is “in the name of character-motivation”. It’s something I generally dislike, and this teetered very close to the edge there. I'm chosing to keep this review spoiler-free here, but you can find a spoiler-section within my Goodreads review if you want to know more of these issues.
“Your affection is not meaningless to me, puny one. I shall devour you another day.”
I’m ending my review on this quote, as it feels fitting. The Library at Mount Char is a book that doesn’t need or care for my affection and praise. It is what it is, confident in its own unique and possibly marmite character. To me it was the right kind of strange. Only one way to find out if it’s yours too…
Many thanks to Titan Books for providing me with a finished copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. You can find this book here on Goodreads.