For those that think there are no more unique ideas in fantasy I humbly present The Library at Mount Char. Impossible to describe or summarize in any way, this is a ‘big idea’ book that manages to stay accessible even through its strangest moments. I fell for this book the same way I fell for Gaiman’s American Gods years back; reading with a true since of wonder and a willingness to go anywhere the author wants to take me. It is a fine balance and I think Hawkins has something special here.
Three characters with various amounts of agency are drawn together. Carolyn is the enigma, more powerful than seems possible and a member of the strangest family put to page. Early on she is met trying to figure out what happened to her ‘father’ along with her other siblings. Where he went and why they care is a slow unfolding story. Caught in her path are Steve, who seems to be nothing more than a puppet for other characters until he finally is able to wrestle control of some of his own story in very surprising ways. And finally there is Erwin, an investigator who would carry any number of other stories, yet here is just doing his best to keep up with Carolyn. In this he may always be behind yet is usually three steps ahead of anyone else involved.
The disappearance of Father obviously has huge ramifications not just for Carolyn and her family but for an increasingly larger radiance until the stakes are for the entire universe. Power successions, creators and god-like powers, tribal politics…anything else? Well there are zombies that are not really zombies, a couple of lions, a pack of dogs, a rigorous course of studies with stakes beyond anything around, and a man in a tutu utterly unaware of how others see him. I tell you, impossible to describe, because as silly as some aspects sound without context this book was never silly. (A minor theme related to the tutu; several characters show how outright silly some cultural norms are if seen in a without the cultural context).
The tight casting that follows only three main characters allows this book to wander yet keep a manageable length. And wander it will, to the end of time and all the way back, through several possible timelines and all across (or above) the universe. Yet never does it feel like too much, nor was it ever weird for weirdness sake despite some very, VERY strange stuff.
It also, despite a fair amount of foreshadowing, is a book that lays out surprises time after time. Anyone who finishes this book and says they could see where it was going should be ostracized as a liar immediately; there are too many possible twists to pick from for anyone to know where it would finally end up. Where it ends up though was exactly where it needed to go, though I of course didn’t know that until it got there (how do you like that circular reasoning?). A bittersweet conclusion that was perhaps warmer(inserting a no context for you chuckle here) than expected, despite the implications that came from it.
The Library at Mount Char is incredibly dark in nature; betrayal and murder and high body counts are to be found. There are characters who delight in death, a character who delights in the already dead, a truly hard to read torture and the threat of one that could be worse. Yet it levies it with a wonderful sense of wit, starting with the chapter titles themselves and penetrating down through the page. Dry humor is a hard thing to get on page sometimes and when it is done right it lifts a whole book.
An early contender for my favorite book of the year. I loved the imagination, the willingness to take risks. I went from hating some characters to loving them and right back again. I couldn’t guess in a million tries where it would end up, in part because I have never read anything like it before. Set it up people, let the hype flow. This is a book to look out for.
Copy for review provided by publisher.