A Bloody, Surreal and Hilarious Trip: The Library at Mount Char

The Library at Mount Char by Scott HawkinsThe Library at Mount Char

Published: June 16th 2015
Publisher: Crown
Genre(s): Fantasy, Horror
Format: Audiobook
Length: 16 hrs and 47 mins

The Library at Mount Char is a fantastic book, but it’s almost impossible to summarize. Part of the problem is that a lot of the book hangs on misdirection. The main character knows a lot of things that she isn’t telling us, so we have to work with what little the author provides.

This means that to summarize the book past the first few chapters is to spoil some really great surprises. On the other hand, some of the bat-shit weirdness that occurs in later chapters is what made me truly, madly, deeply love this completely insane novel. It’s a bit of a quandary, because I want to recommend this book to everyone I know.

It doesn’t help that the book’s cover looks like the sort of thing you might find on a remaindered thriller in the bargain bin. The design doesn’t really grab you by the face and insist that you start reading the book RIGHT THIS INSTANT.

The basic summary is as follows: Carolyn and her adopted brothers and sisters are apprentice librarians in a massive, strange Library full of books that include all the knowledge in the world. When they were young, all of their parents died suddenly and a mysterious man they call “Father” adopted them. Father is viciously cruel, incredibly dangerous and infinitely powerful… but he’s gone missing and now none of them can get back into the Library. When they discover what actually happened to Father, it may change the fate of the entire universe as we know it.

I started reading Mount Char back in September on my Kindle, but – even though I was definitely enjoying the book – I just didn’t make much progress. It’s gotten to the point that I just don’t finish books quickly unless they’re an audiobook because I can listen to them during my commute. I don’t really set aside time to sit down with a book in front of my face. So, despite the fact that I really enjoyed what I’d read of Mount Char, it ended up languishing on my Kindle to the point that I began forgetting what was going on in the story.

Luckily, my local library has a great selection of books in Overdrive, so I was able to download the MP3 version without waiting for too long. The audiobook has a fantastic narrator who really captures Carolyn’s odd combination of valley girl mannerisms and menacing behavior, so it ended up being the best possible way to read the book.

So, the question is: how do I explain to you what this book is and why you should read it? Well, first off, I think one of the simplest things I can say is that if you enjoy the work of Neil Gaiman, it’ll probably be in your wheelhouse even though it’s simultaneously very different from the sorts of things he writes.

The Library at Mount Char is a dark fantasy with occasional gruesome parts. It’s also absurdly funny. You may go for long stretches of the novel not entirely sure who to root for. You oftentimes won’t understand why the characters are doing what they’re doing. There was a point about two-thirds of the way through when I realized that there was still plenty of story left even though one big thread had wrapped up. It was really exciting because I wasn’t at all sure where Hawkins might be going with the rest of the book.

One of the best parts about The Library at Mount Char is that it is so incredibly confident. The longer you stick with the story, the clearer it becomes that Hawkins knows exactly what he is doing. The way he undermines expectations feels almost gleeful.

The Library at Mount Char is easily one of the best and most exciting books I’ve read in a very long time. I want to buy copies for everyone I know and pester them until they read it. I hope someone eventually figures out a way to turn it into a movie because I’d love to see some of the later scenes dramatized. I can’t recommend it enough.


Full disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from Net Galley.

Amazon | Audible | Book Soup | Barnes and Noble | Indiebound