Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

The Library at Mount Char is one messed up book. The perverted violence was very hard to take at times. But it is populated by characters who are, in their twisted ways, well developed and interesting. The plot seemed to contain some original ideas (although I am not a horror fan and am not well read in the genre). The book is well written; the narrative flows and kept me reading despite my revulsion at what the characters were doing to one another.

The Library is inhabited by an ancient man who has learned most of the secrets of the cosmos. (I would refer to him as a sorcerer, but the characters are quite firm that there’s “no such thing” as magic.) He is powerful – too powerful, and the U.S. government sends a bomb to destroy him. He lives in the United States in a subdivision. His house serves as a kind of portal to the Library; it is not physically present at that spot. He is barbecuing in the midst of a picnic when the attack happens. But he is able to stop time and save himself and many of the children at the picnic. The children then become his apprentices (or “librarians” as he calls them). Each is studying to become a master of a different “catalog” – death, murder, animals, healing, language and so on. He becomes their replacement “Father” – and he is a cruel and abusive parent. The librarian who studies murder and violence is a particularly good student of Father’s techniques.

When the book begins, Father is missing and the portal to the Library is repelling approach by any of the librarians. The librarians are attempting to find their way in and figure out what has happened – but they most certainly don’t all seem to be working towards the same goal.

For the first half of the book, the fantastical plot was the kind of horror I could suspend my disbelief and buy into. After that there were some plot twists I found a little harder to take. Still, the story wrapped up neatly and cleverly.

I liked the idea of a “heart coal” – a memory you keep in your heart to warm yourself with when your world is otherwise cold. I also liked the character of Erwin Leffington, a complex ex-football player and war hero now serving as a special agent who gets caught up in the machinations of Carolyn, one of the librarians. I felt I could relax a little whenever he entered the story.

The Library at Mount Char is creative and imaginative. It is also twisted and horrific. I will admit: I chose to read this book because of the Library in the title and the librarian label on the characters. If the book had been named the Academy at Mount Char and the characters had been called students, I would probably have bailed on this book. So well done, author, to pull me in by appealing to my love of libraries and librarians.

If you are a fan of horror, I recommend this book. If you are a fan of complex plots and don’t mind horrific abuse against children, you might also give it a try.

I read an advance reader copy of The Library at Mount Char. It is scheduled to be published on June 16.

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