The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
In The Library at Mount Char, Scott Hawkins has crafted a contemporary fantasy novel that is at once brutally dark and wickedly funny.
The curtain opens on a woman in her 30s walking “blood-drenched and barefoot” down a rural Virginia highway at night. Her name is Carolyn, and in the first paragraph we learn three things about her:
She has just murdered a detective.
She is smiling.
She likes guacamole.
We also know that Carolyn is a librarian, but not like any librarian you’ve ever met before.
The Library at Mount Char is the story of a God who has gone missing. He is known by many names – Ablakh, Abla Khan, and Adam Black among them. He is old – very, very old. Actually, he is ancient. And he created the universe, as we know it.
Ablakh, this missing God, has 12 acolytes who know him as Father. They are the librarians, called so because each one of them has mastered a catalog of material that Father has written, bound, and shelved in his vast library. The mastery of this material has rendered the librarians god-like in many ways themselves, each with a particular specialty. Michael is Father’s ambassador to beasts and knows the ways of the animals; Rachel and Alicia are the librarians of the future, possible and actual respectively; Margaret’s domain is the underworld and Carolyn’s is languages – all of them, “past and present, human and beast, real and imagined. She could speak most of them as well, though some required special equipment.”
Like Father, the librarians all speak Pelapi, “a vaguely singsongy language that sounded like the illegitimate child of Vietnamese and a catfight.” They keep to themselves, except Carolyn who, because she’s mastered languages, is occasionally sent among “the Americans,” one of whom she takes an interest in.
Steve is a plumber. He once was a thief, but he’s left that life behind him, embracing Buddhism as best he can. And it’s working for him. Right up until the day Carolyn, wearing a Christmas sweater over bike shorts with leg warmers, changes his life forever.
The Library at Mount Char is chock full of surprises. Sure there’s the whole missing god and the library with all the secrets of the universe it it, but there are also ancient deities with names like the Duke, Barry O’Shea, and Q-33 North (currently masquerading as a glacier somewhere in Norway); there are rampaging dogs, and something like zombies, as well.
I’ve left a lot out. It’s best that I do. The Library at Mount Char operates on the very regression completeness theory posited by one of the librarians in the novel. That is, “no matter how many mysteries you solve, there is always a deeper mystery behind it.” There are a lot of mysteries here and many twists as the story unfolds.
Hawkins’ novel is unputdownable. I know, because when it opened with a crazy woman returning blood-drenched from a murder scene, I tried to put it down. Yes there is horror to be had here, but it’s entirely in service to the author’s accomplished storytelling and fantastic world-building. In The Library at Mount Char, Hawkins has created a fully-realized mythology, and, as is often the case, this myth comes with more than a little murder.