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The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
Book Name: The Library at Mount Char
Author: Scott Hawkins
Publisher(s): Crown
Formatt: Hardcover / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Fantasy / Horror
Release Date: June 16, 2015 (US) June 18, 2015 (UK)

We open on an oddly dressed girl walking down a road and refusing a ride from a stranger because she does not want to have to kill them, reasoning that it’s already been a busy day, what with her already doing away with a nosy Detective. It’s a jarring opening that immediately takes the readers equilibrium and shakes it about and sets the tone for the rest of the novel.

Meet Carolyn. When she was a wee girl a ‘man’, known as Father, rescued her and eleven other kids after their neighbourhood was wiped out by a giant fireball. He claimed them as his adopted children and sent them to his library, which sits outside of the reality of our universe, to study. There are twelve folios, one for each child, and it is forbidden for any child to study outside their category, presumably so they could not become too powerful. Our protagonist is assigned Language and we find ourselves in the present day where ‘Father’ has disappeared.

So not particularly mega exciting in terms of ‘powers’ but the potential is there. Could she be stronger than anyone because she knows the right words to say at the right time? Can she exert a measure of control over those around her or only influence them? These are just the first of many questions.

Another question concerns the kids. There are twelve kids but we only hear about six or seven of them. For a while I almost had mental space reserved for them, waiting for the inevitable moment when they would all sit behind a table, with symbols in front of them and all would be explained. It never happened. And I realised what was going on about half way into the book when things really started to push the boundaries of the imagination as more and more outlandish and wonderful concepts were being brought into play.

Scott Hawkins has created a deliberately untraditional and crazy first act to force the doors of the mind open so they are ready to receive the complete and utter madness that follows. The epic scale of some of the ideas at work and the complete fantasy of them would have been hard to accept if I’d not already been conditioned to expect the unexpected and I now see them as a bit of a test. If you don’t put the work in, get impatient, or simply can’t deal with the first 150 pages you don’t get the reward of the final 225.

In terms of a traditional protagonist, Carolyn is a bit of an enigma. She is not that likable because, like the rest of the adopted children, she has little to no attachment to the rest of the human race. Her problems and goals are on a different cosmic plane to the average person so she and the others use ordinary mortals with all the concern an amateur chess player has for its pawns. When they kill, they kill with casual disregard as they have all experienced death themselves and been resurrected as part of their training. Their relationship with death is more intimate and different to anyone else’s and, in Carolyn, this lack of what should be a universal commonality comes off as god like arrogance.

“He thought of Carolyn spinning, cackling, thought of the dispassionate, just-relaying-information tone in which she told of axe murders at dinner, told of children roasted alive.”

A nice example of Carolyn’s typical dialogue is this.

“Go into the city – someplace with a lot of electric lights, and a good power supply. Get indoors, on the top floor of a tall building, if you can. Stay away from windows. And if you see people with tentacles, stay away. Don’t let them touch you.”

I might have found this reference to tentacles to be a little bit too randomly thrown in there if I’d not already been put through the wringer but, as it is, it hits the perfect note between understated and casual that Carolyn seems to revel in as her experiences and knowledge are so far ahead of everyday people.

I really loved the other main characters especially Erwin, who has the most perfectly named chapter bearing his name, “So, What Ended Up Happening with Erwin.” Erwin is fantastic and a truly fleshed out version of the traditional ‘muscle’ archetype. A wartime hero, with a book and a movie written about him, who often finds himself a subject of fan worship and whilst this affords him a great deal of respect and power it also means his ability to live in anonymity is forfeit and he must face constant reminders of the things he has done. Not to say he is a bad guy, but the road to his current state was only made possible by the death of so many around him, that to recall it without pain would be impossible. He is a deadly son of a bitch but also a man who keeps his promises, a professional killer but not afraid to risk it all if outmatched, in short, a guy you would want on your side.

Reading this book was like listening to a Rush album for the first time and realising that what they were doing was completely different and seemed to rewrite the rules of rhythm and tempo. Once I relaxed into it, and stopped trying to guess what would happen, I found myself having a great frigging ride. A big shout out to whoever read this book the first time and decided to help give it some legs is a patient as the first person to hand whip egg whites for forty five minutes just in case they turned into something delicious. Turns out it was worth the gamble.

The Library at Mount Char is incredibly original and fresh and just a stunning debut from Scott Hawkins. He is a new voice in fantasy, unlike any you have heard before, but one I guarantee you will hear from again. Bravo.


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