Book review: The Library at Mount Char

The Library at Mount CharThe Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don’t read a lot of fantasy because I prefer my absurd story scenarios to be horror-flavored but The Library at Mount Char had been recommended and has surfaced on a few “Best of 2015” lists so I figured, what the heck, it’s not like it was going to be elves and dwarves arguing with each other.

Instead, The Library at Mount Char tells the story of how an ancient uber-being who may or may not be human has fended off his enemies for thousands of years (maybe longer) while maintaining The Library, a collection of books, scrolls and bric a brac that essentially allows him to rule and shape our universe. He is aided by twelves children he kidnaps at the beginning of the story, using them as apprentices, with each studying a different discipline. One of them is Carolyn, the protagonist, and the story that unfolds deals mainly with her plotting to usurp her “Father” and also how she learns to become human again, sort of, after turning into an emotionless monster for several decades due to aforementioned plotting.

There’s always a goofy plumber/thief named Steve she conscripts for various tasks and an ex-military man named Earwin who is pretty much your typical possibly-crazy-but-smart ex-military guy.

Several times when explaining the various impossible things happening, Carolyn tells Steve “It’s not magic” but it’s magic. Some lip service is paid to “seventh dimensions” and such but if you’re expecting plausible, scientific explanations for everything, you won’t find them here–nor should you, despite the overall realistic tone the story takes.

What you will find is a generally light, sometimes funny and often gruesome tale of long-brewing revenge, world-destroying (rather than building) wrapped up in a modern fantasy shell with a little life lesson tucked in at the end.

And talking lions. And deer. And zombies. And people who love baking brownies.

The general inhumanity of the children (who are in their thirties for most of the story) means you won’t particularly identify with or feel empathy for them, but Steve the plumber serves as a reference point to the reader, a likable doofus who gets in way over his head.

I liked The Library at Mount Char overall, though at times I felt author Scott Hawkins might have committed more fully to a specific tone, as the story swings a bit uneasily at times from Very Serious High Stakes Stuff to irreverence and silliness. But that’s more a personal preference on my part more than it is a significant failing of the book.

As I mentioned up top, I don’t read a lot of fantasy so I have no idea how The Library at Mount Char compares to similar work. It’s a well-written and tightly-plotted novel, though, and taken on its own, I enjoyed the journey of Steve and Carolyn through the woods and bombs and gunfire and weird other dimensional places.

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