Title: The Library at Mount Char
Author: Scott Hawkins
Publication Date: June 16, 2015
Synopsis from Goodreads:
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.
The Library at Mount Char reminds me of all of the fantasy novels I used to read when I was a child, except it’s written for an older audience. This story is a dark fantasy, taking place in the recent past. We meet the children in the late 70’s and follow them approximately into their 30s. They are introduced to a dark power–magical, but not magic. This power is more a mastery of science, war, language, and all other aspects of human life; each of these is called a “catalogue” and there are 12 in all, 1 for each child or “librarian.” They learn from Father, a ruthless man more than 60,000 years old and the master of the universe.
The early parts of the book unfold slowly. I liked it, but I wasn’t blown away. It was somewhere around 20% in that this book took me on a great adventure. I read almost the entire thing last night, unable to put it down. There are so many twists, turns, and surprises. Hawkins does an excellent job of building absolutely fascinating characters–sadistic, detached, and completely separate from human reality, but completely unique. Michael can speak to the beasts, but barely to humans. David is the epitome of strength and violence, but lacks completely in compassion. Carolyn is quite and unsuspecting, but knows every language in existence. The central characters are so thorough and so well-developed. Hawkins takes the time to develop their backstories and their personalities. We think that we can predict their motivations and actions based on the fact that they are characters, but they are completely unpredictable and surprising. I think this is what had me zipping through the pages. I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next!
It’s a violent and unrelenting story. The children face incredible danger and threat. So be warned, it’s often very cruel and impossible to accept. Through extensive and horrific training, these children become superhuman. It’s easy, after a while, to distance yourself from them. They become god-like beings, mastering their bodies, their minds, and even death. They are so dehumanized that their fighting and vengeance becomes normalized, a regular sort of conflict between “gods.” But even these characters have their limits. The cruelty sometimes becomes too much for even them. In order to survive, they must outsmart and out run each other.
The end of this story is perhaps the most incredible. We see significant character growth, detailed explanation, a fully laid out timeline, and a relieving resolution. The final few chapters really put the entire story into perspective. The Library at Mount Char reminds us how very small we are as humans, and how vulnerable. It reminds us that we are at the mercy of our environment and that there are many things that are completely beyond our control. An excellent, excellent read. I highly recommend it.