"Carolyn, blood-drenched and barefoot, walked alone down the two-lane stretch of blacktop that the Americans called Highway 78. Most of the librarians, Carolyn included, had come to think of this road as the Path of Tacos, so-called in honor of a Mexican joint they snuck out to sometimes. The guacamole, she remembered, is really good. Her stomach rumbled. Oak leaves, reddish-orange and delightfully crunchy, crackled underfoot as she walked. Her breath puffed white in the pre-dawn air. The obsidian knife she had used to murder Detective Miner lay nestled in the small of her back, sharp and secret.
She was smiling."
How does that grab you?! It certainly grabbed me! Wow!
Actually, let me back up a minute, the first thing that grabbed me was the title: The Library at Mount Char. I just liked it. Then, I saw the cover of the book and loved it (still do). After that, I noticed it's a debut novel by the author, Scott Hawkins. I love to read debut novels! So far, this book was hitting on all my favorite things. Needless to say, when I opened it up to the first page and read what you just read, I was completely in and moved it to the top of my holiday reading stack.
While I liked the book, it is not one I would recommend to just anyone. It's dark and more than a bit warped. It is a fantasy with a different spin on gods and how the universe works. There is death and destruction and abuse, but those kinds of things are often at the center of any tales involving gods. If you're a fan of Greek and Roman mythology, you may not find this novel quite so warped as other readers may.
The premise of the novel is that there is someone called "Father" who is raising twelve orphan children to be librarians,...but not like the librarians we think of. Each child is being trained to be an expert in a particular field or "catalog" - and they are not allowed to learn outside their catalog. Carolyn, for instance, is required to know all the languages in the universe. She should be able to communicate with anyone or any thing. Father is harsh and abusive in his training, but claims it is necessary so they are all completely prepared for what they must do to help run the world. I guess you could say Father is head god, and the children are gods.
When we meet Carolyn, on page one, she is already grown. There appears to be a situation of some sort, and she's trying to get back to the library. That is what you begin with. As the story unfolds, you learn more about how they all were raised and trained in Father's library. The story moves forward as you get pieces of the backstory a little at a time. I thought the author did a good job, and he tied up all the loose ends in the end.
This is a bit of a complex story, so I wouldn't suggest you read it in bits and pieces. You'll lose the thread of thought if you put it down for too long. I read it over three days. Of course, there's no need to read it that quickly, you just have to keep with it. Don't let it gather dust on a shelf between chapters. Of course, to be honest with you, I had a hard time putting it down. I wanted to see where the story was going. Yes, it lulled in a couple of places, but not for too long. I realized, at the end, the little lulls were there on purpose.
This wasn't a book I was crazy about, but I did like it. I liked it because it was different. I like an author who takes a risk and shows me something I didn't expect. Hawkins does that. He's also good at descriptive writing and paints vivid pictures in your mind. The difficult part is when he's describing something that's horrible, something you may not want to picture. I believe that's why some people might struggle with the darker side of the novel.
One last thing, I'd like to defend the author a bit against a few bad reviews I read today. I read reviews that claimed the pieces didn't fit. For instance, they said if Carolyn was supposed to know all the languages, why didn't she know a round piece of bread with cheese on it was called a pizza? They claimed it just didn't ring true to the story. Obviously, these people have never taught English as a Second Language, or ever tried to learn a language that was not their native tongue. Just because you learn a language from a book (which is how Carolyn learned) doesn't mean you understand it completely in practice.
I will say again, I don't think this book is for everyone. If reading about death and dark things brings you down, then don't read it. I said it was dark and warped and it is, but it also holds a few precious jewels of thought I won't soon forget. If you like mythology and fantasy, I definitely think you'd find this interesting. And if you're like me, and welcome trying a bit of anything new and unusual, I say go for it!