The Library at Mount Char
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
It would be too easy to spoil the story so this will be brief. For many of the books I review there is information about awards in the "Overview" column to the right. I feel confident I will be adding several nominations and/or wins there over the coming year. It's one of the most fascinating (but also disturbing) books I've read in a long time, and it also has a wicked sense of humor. Part fantasy, part horror, perhaps even a bit of science fiction, I've not read anything quite like it, even though it occasionally evoked memories of H.P. Lovecraft's Old Ones, along with Neil Gaiman's American Gods.
It takes its time revealing the details of this world, confusing me a bit in the beginning by presenting scenes out of linear order. We first meet Carolyn Sopaski, one of the Librarians, as she walks barefoot along a country highway, drenched in the blood of the man she has just killed. The details of that crime aren't explained for several more chapters. In the intervening pages, and in fact all the way to the end, my opinion of Carolyn kept vacillating between "sympathetic victim" and "detestable monster." If my final verdict is not the latter it is only because there were many others that fit the description too.
The Library is the repository of endless volumes of information in twelve different "catalogs." Each of the Librarians is responsible for just one catalog, in fact they are forbidden to read outside of their catalog or share information with any of the other Librarians. Carolyn's specialty is languages, with other catalogs concentrating on war and weapons, medicine, mathematics, as well as several areas of arcane knowledge, such as future sight, communication with animals or with the dead. The medicine catalog also covers resurrection of the dead, a discipline that is used multiple times throughout the book. The Library exists in an alternate dimension from Earth, and was created, or perhaps inherited, by a centuries old person(?) known to the Librarians as Father, but who had previously been known as Adam Black, before that as Abla Khan, and earlier still Ablakha. The Librarians have been with Father for more than thirty years, ever since they were all orphaned on the same day in 1979. Time is suspended within the Library so they have all had ample opportunity to become masters of their catalog.
The best thing is that it is not predictable. Nothing that I anticipated occurred, and what did happen suprised me at every turn. While I can recommend this, I am also aware it is not for everyone. Lots of strong language and lots of violence. Father has been a strict disciplinarian to his protégés to say the least. There are scenes of tremendous cruelty and torture, and then the victim is brought back to life to suffer once again if they have not learned the lesson. It would be easy to think of Father as the Devil Incarnate, but there are other entities who are either his allies or his enemies who are likely just as cruel. It's not clear if he and the others are aliens or ancient gods, but Carolyn later tells someone who asks that there are no demons, and that there's no such thing as magic, all the while doing things that seem totally magical. Or maybe it's just mathematics. Carolyn has found a way to hide the fact that she has been studying other catalogs. Are her motives and goals any different from Father's? I honestly can't tell you, but I'm anxious to find out since the story ends on what appears to be a cliffhanger. This is Hawkins' only published novel so far, but superbly crafted as if from a master. I can't wait for more.
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