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Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Library At Mount Char by Scott Hawkins (Reviewed by Joshua Redlich & Mihir Wanchoo)

Order the book HERE
Read the first chapter HERE

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Scott Hawkins was born in Idaho, grew up in South Carolina and completed his education all the way to his MS over in South Carolina. He has always worked in the field of computers since he graduated and counts himself as a big lover of dogs. Currently living with his wife and a band of his four-legged buddies, Scott is deep into writing his second book as well as a sequel short story to TLAMC. This book was his speculative fiction debut.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: 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. As Carolyn gathers the tools she needs for the battle to come, fierce competitors for this prize align against her.

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.

ANALYSIS (Joshua): I have always been a fan of mythology, and books about gods are always quickly finding their way to the top of my reading list. Such was the same with The Library at Mount Char (TLAMC). Hawkins’s debut, however, was not at all what I expected.

True, TLAMC is about gods (though they are never actually referred to as such); but the familiar characters of mythology are completely absent from the story. The godly figures that inhabit Hawkins’s world are instead completely new creations, making this a story unlike any of its type that I have ever experienced. Throughout the novel, readers are introduced to a complex hierarchy of gods, as well as their relationships with one another and their fascinating history. It is clear that Hawkins put a significant amount of thought into every little detail, and the world he has created is beautiful and realistic, though very, very dark.

Once I finished the first chapter and realized the book was not about the gods I already knew, I was instantly curious to learn more about the Librarians as they use their various abilities to find Father. Yet the story quickly defied my expectations once more. Instead of following the Librarians exclusively, many of the beginning chapters instead bring in new, seemingly random characters that are only minimally connected to the Librarians, or so it seems at first. Eventually, everything becomes linked in much more significant ways, but since this is not clear at first, the beginning of the book comes off as episodic and random. Fortunately, Hawkins is an engaging writer, so these departures from the main protagonists still make for compelling and entertaining reads.

TLAMC is not without other faults as well. One problem I had was that the librarians, primarily the protagonist Carolyn, are all very difficult to relate to, as each one is completely detached from humanity. To them, human life is something inconsequential and expendable, and the human emotions they still experience are few and far between. They are constantly committing horrifying acts in the most casual ways, and even though the reader comes to understand why that is, it is still a challenge to be sympathetic toward them. However, it becomes clear that this is the case very early on in the story, and while it may not be easy to relate to Carolyn and her friends, it takes no time at all to become invested in the events of the story.

The only other problem I had with the book is actually quite interesting, because it’s usually something I want in the books I read: closure. Though the beginning of TLAMC leads readers from one question to the next as they try to figure out exactly what is going on and why, the last hundred pages or so are all answers. Normally, I love having my questions answered; after all, it’s usually the questions raised in the first chapter of a book that pushes me to continue reading, and to get to the last page only to have those questions remain such is a disappointment. But 100 pages worth of answers is, in my opinion, a bit excessive, even if it did bring everything together rather perfectly.

Despite these few faults, which for a debut author are fairly minimal, TLAMC is truly an exceptional book. Hawkins’s writing is smooth, his descriptions vivid, his characters complex, his world building thoughtful, and his story fascinating. Yet the author’s principal strength is his ability to tease information. Littered throughout the story are myriad one-liners that hint to things to come, whether it’s a brief mention of something mind blowing that isn’t expounded on for several more chapters or a sudden, unexpected twist followed by an unrelated chapter. These little nuggets of information, which come fairly often, keep the book shifting so the reader never really knows exactly what is going on or what to expect, yet with each one the reader becomes more and more invested in the story and curious about how it will end.

ANALYSIS (MIHIR): The Library At Mount Char is a hard book to define or compartmentalize in terms of genre. It's like a wild mishmash of horror, thriller, urban fantasy and general fiction. The author begins the tale by introducing us to Carolyn and Steve, two individuals who couldn't be further away from each other in their thinking and behavior. Carolyn inducts Steve into sort of breaking into a house, and the plot keeps getting weirder after that.

We the readers are then introduced to Carolyn's past and her upbringing along with eleven other children by a person who asks them to call him Father and who initiates each of them in a separate field. They are told that these studies are wildly necessary and any transgression into each other's domains is punished severely.  The twin plot strands of Carolyn's past recollections and the present wherein she and her fellow brother and sisters cause mayhem in our current world make up the story. 

If you feel the above two paragraphs were confusing then get ready to be confused massively by this dark book which will have you confused at first but enthralled entirely by the end. The author has to be lauded for writing a version of Hogwarts and the Harry Potter world as imagined by Cormac McCarthy of Road fame. It’s a solid gut punch of a story focussing on a group of quasi-immortals who have been brought together by a scary “Father” figure who does his best to harden them for a task. What the task is and what is actually happening in the book is the main mystery among many but the way Scott Hawkins brings all the plot threads together is remarkable.

The writing is really dark but laced with witty observations and a wry style of humor that will cause the reader to chuckle along from time to time. The author doesn't pull any punches with descriptions of hard core violence and gore but he doesn't over do it or make it comical like Quentin Tarantino. The book has a fluid pace to it and slowly but surely becomes more and more streamlined as plot threads start to coalesce in to a tundering climax where everything is revealed. I thoroughly enjoyed how it all made sense in the end and we truly understand who Father might be and what were his motivations.

This book was in my top 10 debuts of 2015 and I can't wait to read what the author writes about next. Whatever it might be, it's safe to say Scott Hawkins marks himself as a literary maverick and an author to watch out for.

CONCLUSION (Joshua): Whether you are the sort of reader that gets drawn into a novel through a unique and interesting backstory and a satisfying number of unexplained mysteries or the type that just wants constant action, The Library At Mount Char is the book for you. Just as long as you can stomach gore and violence.


Unknown said...

Seems like this could be an interesting read, I'm really interested in the Fantasy aspect of a well written book. Have you heard of "Lucifer's Son" by Sergey Mavrodi? It was a best seller in Russia and it has been translated to English. It's a bit of a Dark Fantasy, but if you like the type of book that sends a chill up your spine and makes you ask questions, this is a great book! Just a note though, it's more PG-13, so for older teens and adults. I'm always looking for book recommendations and a friend recommended it to me and sent me his webpage (there's a link for the book there too) Thanks for the review and recommendation of The Library At Mount Char. I'll be looking in to it!

Unknown said...

What a beautiful cover! The story seems very interesting. I like these god´s things. For sure I´ll add it to my book shelf.
Cyci Cade

Anonymous said...

What a terrific read. Am going to read this the second time. Someone has to make this into a movie.

Paladin said...

I completely agree with "Anonymous" in that this HAS to be made into a movie. I can picture several current actors in the various roles, but, it will take a good director to juggle all the parts, and a screenplay that doesn't muck around too much with the premise. All in all, a great read, and I too will be visiting Mount Char again. Just like Hogwarts, if Clive Barker, and Stephen King had conceived it.


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