He paused. “Who are you, exactly?” “I told you,” Carolyn said. “I’m a librarian.” “Ok.” At first, the way she looked – Christmas sweater, complete with reindeer, over Spandex bicycle shorts, red rubber galoshes with 1980s leg warmers – made him think she ws schizophrenic. Now he doubted that was it. …She spoke to French to Cath, and surprised another regular, Eddie Hu, by being fluent in Chinese. Librarian kind of fits, too, though. He imagined her, frizzy-haired, surrounded by teetering stacks of books, muttering into a stained mug of staff lounge coffe as she schemed her burglery. He grinned and shook his head. No way.
– The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
The Library at Mount Char is a fantasy novel about a young woman named Carolyn who calls herself a Librarian, and Steve, a former thief who Carolyn manipulates into legal trouble in an attempt to save her world and his own before its previous structure descends into violence and death. Carolyn is one of several “librarians”, so-named by their adoptive father. They are each given a section of the library which they must master. When their adoptive father disappears and an impenetrable shield pops up around the Library itself, each of the siblings tries in his or her own way to solve the mystery of their father’s disappearance. However, one of the siblings knows more than he or she will admit, and is plotting against the others in pursuit of an unknown goal.
I do not often talk about the concept of a novel, but Scott Hawkins has presented a concept that is simply fascinating to me and this review would not be complete without examining it. In The Library at Mount Char, Carolyn and her siblings are librarians, each given a catalog, or a section of the Library that they must know intimately. They spent their entire childhood learning these things, and now have become masters of the subjects. Carolyn, for example, studies languages, and as an adult she knows every language there is and has ever been. Michael studies animals – he knows all animal languages, and has spent most of his life living among animals so that he has almost forgotten how to be human. David studies war, and is familiar with all weapons, fighting styles, strategies, and has even made himself resistant to pain and injury. I loved this as a concept – eight children, taken from ordinary lives, who have been given extraordinary knowledge and abilities to the extent that they are practically supernatural beings. Carolyn’s first scene in a public place shows her ignorance of the world around her – she feels as though she stands out, cannot remember how to behave properly or how to dress as an ordinary “American”. However, her study of languages still allows her to mingle better than her siblings – she at least can still speak American English without an accent, which allows her to come off as local but quirky. Her siblings, however, almost immediately mark themselves as foreigners, as they remember very little English and do not attempt to blend in with Americans, even when it would be more practical.
Partially due to the nature of the mystery (what has happened to Father and who has done away with him), the story was revealed in sudden leaps and bounds, which often made the plot difficult to follow. At the beginning of the novel, we know very little about Carolyn and her siblings, where they came from, who their father is, or any context for why his disappearance might be so dangerous. There were several times in the first quarter of the book when I was tempted to give up because I simply felt lost in the feeling that I was missing a substantial part of the back story. I checked online several times to make sure that this wasn’t a sequel. By the end, I was glad that I had pushed through that first section because as I understood more of the backstory of Carolyn and her siblings I cared more about what was happening to them. Having finished the novel, I now understand why it was written as it was: a substantial part of the explanation of their father’s disappearance lies in Carolyn and her siblings’ history, and it would be difficult to fully flesh out their story without revealing the mystery itself. However, I think that the difficulty of this first quarter of the book will scare away a large portion of potential readers.
This may be the first review I have done in which I will admit that I cannot decide how I feel about the characters. Each of the characters (especially Carolyn and her siblings) are dramatically different, which definitely made them memorable. In a way, watching these young adults move about in their world reminded me a good deal of ancient mythology – strong personalities with substantial power to do good or evil, toying with the powerless humans around them. However, like in ancient mythology there was very little character development, and I did occasionally find myself wishing that even one of the characters would act as though they were learning from their experiences. I suppose I will say this much: if you want a novel that is character-heavy with dramatic personal growth, this is not the novel for you. If you are looking for a complex fantasy with an interesting concept and a violent streak, I would absolutely recommend this.
I want to rate this novel higher than I will, simply because it took me so long to get into it and I suspect that will be true of a lot of readers. Given that consideration, I will rate this book a 7 out of 10. Readers of science fiction, fantasy, and horror would most enjoy this novel and its rich world development, but the stranger elements likely would turn off those that don’t enjoy those genres, and the slow start will likely scare off those who do not have the time to pursue a book that seems so strange to them.