The Library at Mount Char – responsible for one of the worst sentences I have ever read in my life.
Carolyn felt a little squirt of horror at that but she squelched it.
What can I say? I liked this book… and I kinda hated this book. It’s a conundrum.
The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins is a truly original story. Not quite fantasy, not quite science fiction, not quite horror – but rather a sprinkling of all three. It’s the tale of an ancient being, god-like in power, who takes twelve children under his wing to raise in mysterious, ancient arts. Each child is assigned a certain category to study, a discipline, such as death – languages – war – animals – the future – and so on. In order to learn these arts, the god-like figure known only as “Father,” goes to cruel extremes.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book’s wacky premise and characters. Unfortunately, there were…. problems. It’s the author’s first book – and I almost feel it was the responsibility of his editor to point out the issues with the plot that tangled this story into such a mess towards the end. Hopefully Mr. Hawkin’s will continue to hone his craft and his next book will be an improvement.
SPOILERS FOLLOW…. if you’ve read it, or if you just like spoilers… please follow me into section two of of this review… .
The REALLY COOL STUFF.
The half-resurrected suburbanites that tended to the neighborhood in their immortal half lives were amazingly original and fun. Caught in their repeated patterns from life, they mow the lawn and make cookies without conscious thought behind why they’re doing it. I also loved that they shifted from charming neighbors to rabid monsters if anyone entered their homes.
The mythology behind “Father” and the secret ages of the world were very original. In this story, we are living in the 4th Age, ruled over by “Father” and molded in his image. Before him, other darker creatures ruled but we’re never given more than hints of his mythology. We’re given just enough to tantalize us with thoughts of eons.
The inclusion of speaking animals was awesome.
The little interlude stories – about the rapper’s girlfriend, or the gay son of the lady who’d adopted the demi-gods – those were great tales nestled within the main plot.
The library was cool… but also… meh. It just jumped so far outside of the previously established rules of the book that it felt awkward. We’d spent the book meandering around a neighborhood, a local bar, the woods, a few banks, the White House. Suddenly we’re in an extra-dimensional pyramid that has a zillion books and a galaxy floating in a cloud? Ease us into it, buddy.
Hawkins gave us a lot of original material in this story. It was a true stand out in a wonky genre.
There were problems.
If you spend any amount of time analyzing this book, you can poke holes all through it. Especially in regards to the motivation of characters.
I think the author missed several golden opportunities to make this book better by explaining motivations behind certain actions. And he took a chainsaw to the story’s legs by not bothering to give us reasons behind major plot points.
For example… why did “Father” have to create a heartless monster to overthrow him?
I mean… what’s that all about? Is there a reason his successor had to become stone cold and murder everyone? I mean, when Father figured out Carolyn was the one – why didn’t he go back and just train her independently, slowly and methodically, in all his arts? Why does he have to be murdered? He was planning on retiring anyways and creating a new freakin’ world, so this whole bullshittery of him needing to be murdered by his successor doesn’t stand up.
Why even bother with twelve kids?
Why did Carolyn have to kill her siblings? It’s not like she gained their powers or anything. And only one or two of them might have challenged her. Plus her stupid dad brings one of them back at the end anyways which proves there was no reason to kill them in the first place.
Since we don’t know WHY of so many things, it just leaves you feeling very frustrated with the entire story.
The Library at Mount Char was a dude’s story, people.
I know, I know, the main character was a female, but really, it was a dude’s story. Which is fine, I enjoy a dude’s story – all of Stephen King’s books are dude’s stories. By dude’s story I mean it’s got an overt male slant. Male fantasies, male perspectives, and male ideals are embedded in the tone. It’s an author thing. They could write a book with all female characters and it would still be a dude’s story, dig? Like Kill Bill. This is not to say that all male writer’s create dude’s stories. Not at all. But Scott Hawkins did.
So let’s talk about the dudes.
Let’s start with Steve cause he’s my biggest complaint. I actually really enjoyed Steve as a character. He was sort of sad, sort of conflicted, and sort of sincere. Though he had the “master thief” backstory – in general he seemed to live in the realm of possible human -so you identify most with him. He’s the one everything is explained to – so that you, the reader, can figure out what is going on.
Steve, who bonds with a lion.
Steve, who just wanted to pay off his crippling debt.
I loved the guy.
And I loved the end of his story. He’s learning to speak to the animals. He’s the one keeping tabs on the real world while Carolyn distracts herself from the Apocalypse she created. I loved when he realizes he has to use a different language to get through to Carolyn, who knows every language. That words aren’t enough… and the poor dude sets himself on fire to get through to her! The man sacrifices his life to save the freakin’ world. It was a grand gesture and I thought it was awesome.
But then the author just waved Steve off the stage as if he were nothing. Using another character, (once again, thanks for nothing, Father) Steve’s story arc and purpose is just torn to shreds. Oh, that noble sacrifice? He was born to be suicidal, it’s nothing special. He was only around so you could have some vague idea of an idealized man, Carolyn. He’s not the only character with feelings – nope, he’s a symbol… and a dumb one. The sacrificial lamb. Oh, you thought he was a major character? Nope… disposable. Let’s dispose of him!
I was so pissed. The whole book we’d learned to like the guy – then it’s like the author changed his mind and said, “I hate Steve. He has no use in this story other than being a doormat our gods wipe their feet on.”
Also… why does Steven have to be the sun? If you can turn anyone into a freakin’ sun, why not just transform David? Or, I don’t know… Margaret? She loved burning! This whole sun story was fuzzy logic that annoyed me.
I enjoyed Erwin, even though he was a bit of an easy cliche. Military dude. Super duper military dude, done a lot of things, yeah, seen a lot of things too. Fine. I liked him. I liked his middle school art stint. I liked his quick wit and his sense of humor. I could have used an extra chapter or two on Erwin, honestly. That jump from middle school teacher to secret agent, for one, felt awkward. How he just drifted out of the plot post-Library was also… awkward. Honeslty, that whole bit with the end of the world was a mess, so I’ll let it go and say Erwin was pretty badass overall.
David is also one of the better characters. You know exactly what David wants and what he likes and what he feels. I would have preferred a little more time with him when he was younger, and still sensitive. But as an agent of war, honestly, David was nicely presented through contradictions. His delight in murder. His surprising warmth towards their human caretaker lady. His hatred and begrudging respect of his father. His care of Margaret. He was interesting. Horrible, but interesting.
Except the rape-business.
Let’s talk about the rape.
I’ve wandered through many stories that use extreme violence as short hand for “this character is super evil.” It works better in comic books, like something Frank Miller would churn out, but in books… where you can actually take the time to dig deeper, it always comes off as lazy writing.
The ultra-violence was annoying enough, but then Hawkins threw in rape. There’s something weird about how rape was used in this book, as if the author doesn’t really get it… as if it’s more of a concept that he’s heard about… like shrinking heads or human sacrifice… something strange and terrible that happens very far away… not something that is uncomfortably common in America. The detachment of the writing from this topic was almost creepier than including the act itself. Did it add anything to the story? To know our god of war David was also a violent rapist – who literally fucked people to death? And not just one… but several of his siblings? Repeatedly?
And again, that this was allowed by their god-like Father because, uh… well, he’s the type of guy to cook his kids alive to make a point, so whatever, I guess.
I hated how rape was presented in this book.
I also hated the ludicrous purple tutu. Not the idea of a man wearing a tutu – but how it was handled in this book.
Which… let’s talk about that…
The god-apprentices all dressed like they didn’t understand clothes.
This, my friends, is dumb.
We are supposed to believe that the kids are so far removed from their childhoods that they no longer understand the concept of clothes. Except they all still live on the planet Earth, in America, in a suburban neighborhood filled with normal (dead) people who pass for ordinary. They all go out into the world, or people from the outside world are brought to them. So they see people in normal clothes all the time.
David has been taken out to murder people throughout his training… so why doesn’t he understand the concept of clothes, again? Why would he choose to wear an army jacket and ballerina tutu? It was like an idea the author had that he couldn’t let go… the idea that he wanted his characters to dress peculiar. He could have had David dress up in an ancient set of armor, or wear outdated clothes, or a mix match of war costumes, but nope…. he was really stuck on this illogical idea of his murder machine wearing a purple tutu. For the entire book.
Again – this is a character motivation problem.
If he’d made it a conscious decision – as in, David wore feminine and mismatched clothes because he thought it was funny. Or David wore a tutu because he knew it made him scarier. Or he was daring anyone to judge him, or something. Then yeah, that would be awesome. That would have been super cool. But trying to sell me this story that he didn’t understand the concept of clothing… and that David chose the tutu because it was the closest thing to a loincloth? What? Scratchy, stiff tulle? How?
It would have been better to just let him run around killing in the nude. Like Michael.
What a waste. Michael, Michael, oh Michael. The boy who’d joined the animal kingdom, who no longer really understood how to be a human being. What a compelling idea… all his animal friends… his adventures in the animal kingdom… the dynamics and social structures of the animal world. There was SO MUCH we could have had. But we just get a few allusions to it. And never once to we get to venture into the mind of Michael, to understand him…
but he’s the one who gets to come back and be with the girl at the end, at the dawn of a new age of the world. Not Steve… who we spent the whole book getting to know… but Michael. Who lingered naked in the perimeter.
So… that leave’s Carolyn.
Carolyn might as well be unisex – except for being raped and having nice legs that Steve can oggle. You could change her name to Chuck and no one would know it’s supposed to be a female character.
I don’t really get Carolyn. I guess I get what the author was trying to do with her – make her this soulless creation who can be dispassionate enough to kill a god and end the world… but then again, why? Which relates back to the original problem of this novel – being that I don’t think it makes sense that she had to be a tortured, heartless monster to be the new god. And as a character… well. What did Carolyn want? What does Carolyn like? What does Carolyn feel? Nothing at all, which is very convenient when you struggle to write female characters, I suppose, as it gets you out of trying to define or express any of those things.
This is one of those books I enjoyed reading, but I absolutely hated thinking about later. And I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I’m still thinking about it. About the freakin’ problems with it.
I’m leaving my four star rating… but it may sink in the aftermath.