Imagine a library that contains every aspect of earthly and possibly universal knowledge from the beginnings of time to the far-flung ends of existence. Now imagine a benevolent Father figure who takes in orphans like one might take in strays. Each orphan is assigned a section of the library. Each child is set to study and become master of his or her own sector. These children are known as librarians.
The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins begins with a homecoming (of sorts). Siblings, though not blood relations, return from their respective research trips to Garrison Oaks. David, the leader of the family after Father has gone missing, summons the librarians home. From the outset, the reader is introduced to a dark mysterious world as one is introduced to Carolyn walking a remote highway, seemingly in a daze, and covered with blood. She is heading home.
Carolyn is the book’s unlikely protagonist with an agenda. She is not always a likable character, yet she can elicit reader sympathy for her plight. She has an innocent air about her but, underneath the veneer, she is a highly suspicious character, an unreliable narrator, and dangerous. The Library at Mount Char weaves together Carolyn’s past with her present allowing the reader to glimpse the child first taken into the library, the girl at her studies, the hard lessons she endured, and the woman who is mastering her skill of language. Carolyn has ulterior motives for returning home other than seeking Father’s whereabouts. She is secretly studying other sections of the library, which is forbidden, and must keep her studies hidden from even the siblings she trusts. All of the children of Garrison Oaks exhibit the innocence of one isolated from the world yet they all have something sinister about them. David, who assumes the head of the family after Father, is the most dangerous of the siblings; it’s his section of violent studies that has created him.
In the end, I have mixed feelings as to whether I liked The Library at Mount Char. I greatly enjoyed Hawkins’ writing style. The language is vivid, exciting, and full of energy that propels the story. I admire the imagination behind this novel. The idea was unique and fresh, unhindered by cliché. The violence flowing through the novel was organic and fit the story. The non-linear story line shifted about on a natural course making second-guessing the novel difficult (if not impossible). And I almost always enjoy a good unreliable narration. Those are all things I liked about The Library at Mount Char. What I did not like so much was the feeling that I was being emotionally manipulated. The novel is a roller coaster full of moments where I wanted to shout out “why”. I was reluctant to grow attached to the characters because of a looming sense that the author was going to do something horrible to them. The story was much darker than I expected. Yet there moments of fantastical wonder or shifting story line that tended to override my areas of dislike.
Nothing that happens in The Library at Mount Char is set in stone. Anything is possible and the fantastical elements felt natural. Hawkins’ novel is dark, yet enjoyable once you get into the flow of the story. The Library at Mount Char has remained with me since closing the cover. I have a feeling it will stay with most readers, and that makes it a very worthwhile read.
Nina Longfield is a writer living in Oregon’s fertile wine country. When she is not reading or writing in her spare time, Nina enjoys hiking in the hills surrounding her cabin.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Crown. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.