Saturday, February 20, 2016

Book Review: The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

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.

As Carolyn gathers the tools she needs for the battle to come, fierce competitors for this prize align against her.

But Carolyn can win. She's sure of it. What she doesn't realize is that her victory may come at an unacceptable price—because in becoming a God, she's forgotten a great deal about being human.

I’m in conflict with this review.  On one hand, I find The Library at Mount Char to be a mind-bending epic, with notes of religion, fantasy, philosophy and science.  At times I was completely amazed at Scott Hawkins’ knowledge of such a wide range of subjects; certainly his mind must be like a library itself. On the other hand, I also found his plot difficult to follow at times, and more often than not, I had a poor grasp of where we were in the story.  There was a moment about halfway in when I felt as if I’d made a breakthrough, that I was beginning to understand Hawkins’ world and even come to really enjoy it, but after a while I found myself lost again in the shuffle of his mythology.

Yes, The Library at Mount Char is a departure for me. I tend to focus on Austenesque “bonnet stories” and the like. But as a self-confessed sci-fi and fantasy story geek (although mostly in the realm of film), I thought I’d give this a try.  When I later found out that a good friend of mine is also a college friend of Scott’s, I was thrilled with the small world connection and was even more enthusiastic about presenting a raving review of his work.

Despite that connection, I can’t offer a raving review of this one, at least not for those who generally follow my reviews and read similar works.  The content can be very rough, with coarse language, graphic violence, and some sexual content.  I didn’t find that to be as off-putting as you would expect. I can handle some cursing and a little blood now and then. The most alienating thing about Mount Char was the story in general.  It took a while for me to understand the main characters, and I never quite claimed a firm grasp on the plot.  I’m sure there was a point there-- I just missed it.  I think.  Most likely, it’s my lack of sophistication as a reader.

While I cannot recommend this title for my usual demographic, I can say that there is a definite audience for this mind-bending novel.  I see it as a mix of Stephen King and Rick Riordan, with a bit of Chris Kyle (of American Sniper) mixed in.  Those with a higher I.Q. than mine, with flexible minds that are open to all sorts of possibilities, who enjoy fantastic tales that dip into the very nature of existence itself… They might enjoy The Library at Mount Char.  It also has its moments of humor (I laughed out loud and underlined text on several occasions), tenderness, as well as horror and confusion.  As I write this, I have a friend in mind that I think will enjoy Mount Char very much, and I intend to share my review materials with her.

On another note: Scott was gracious enough to send me the audio book edition of Mount Char, which aided in my finishing the book in a shorter time period. I loaded it onto my iPhone and listened while doing dishes, riding around town or doing other menial chores.  I’m happy to report that narrator Hillary Huber did excellent work. As a frequent listener of audio books, I truly enjoyed her performance. She has the ability to capture just the right tone of this novel, with a slight edge to her voice, but still having the talent to be sensitive and emotional as well.  She almost sounded cynical as she voiced the main character Carolyn, but I think that was fitting.  Her range, from sinister to sweet was remarkable.

Scott Hawkins is a talented author who will most surely go on to more published titles.  Although I don’t find The Library at Mount Char to be the best fit for me as a reader, I applaud his work and acknowledge that he has created something amazing here. It is a world and library unto its own, with a tale that spans time, space and matter in a way that I’ve never experienced before. For those who might be up for a challenging, sometimes insane and mind-bending read, this might be for you.  Just be prepared for a ride that is unique and thoroughly unpredictable.

Giveaway Notice!

Hop over to Goodreads and enter to win a copy of The Library at Mount Char, if you'd like to give this original fantasy work a try. Giveaway ends on February 29, 2016 and is open to US entrants.  CLICK HERE TO ENTER

Hardback Paperback Kindle Audio CD

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