The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins (Crown, June 16th, 2015)-Carolyn Sopaski’s Father is missing. Well, he’s not actually her biological father, but he did kill her parents and take in her, along with a few other kids, when they were very young. He’s been training them since then in the horrible and the arcane, and the power to unlock the secrets of the universe. It’s not all bad, though. Anything is possible at the Library, and Carolyn, along with her “brothers and sisters” are adrift without Father’s guidance. But, Carolyn has a plan to find him. Carolyn always has a plan.
The plan that Carolyn devises leaves a swath of death in its wake, mainly perpetrated by her brother David, whose specialty is Murder (Carolyn’s is language.) He’s a one man wrecking ball, and the scenes where he’s on the warpath will give you chills. Along the way, she enlists the help of Steve, plumber and one time burglar, to help her out, but Steve has no idea what he’s in for. She also manages to attract the attention of Erwin Leffington, war hero and Homeland Security Agent. Luckily Erwin has an unusually mind, because he’s going to need it. The narrative shifts back and forth between current events and the Librarian’s upbringing. Father has a particular talent for discipline, one that involves torture and cruelty, and it warps the kid in indescribable way. Except for Carolyn. Yes, she’s awkward around people, doesn’t know how to dress, and cellphones might as well be magic as far as she’s concerned. Father has kept them sheltered from the outside world, and it’s devastatingly apparent for most of them. Carolyn doesn’t plan to let the social awkwardness, and downright weirdness, of her brothers and sisters stop her, though.
The Library at Mount Char is one of the most original and surprising novels that I’ve read in a long time. Elements of terror and fantasy are mixed together to make a heady brew, striking in its inventiveness. Carolyn has retained more of her humanity than the other Librarians have, but that bit of humanity will be tested to the limits in the conclusion. She’s a wry, extremely intelligent woman and although she does some horrible things, it’s hard not to root for her, even if you don’t quite know what her endgame will be. Steve makes an unwitting accomplice, and proves to be her foil in many ways, and Agent Erwin Leffington is more than meets the eye, and revels at others’ underestimation of him, and his considerable abilities.
I absolutely loved this book. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever read. Terror abounds, but as horrible as things get, there is also beauty and wonder to be found, and the author’s exploration of innocence taken is heartbreaking. Beautiful writing and worldbuilding only serve to highlight the author’s exploration of some pretty big themes: humanity, compassion, the nature of reality and the universe, and ultimately love. And it is a love story, but it’s certainly not like any love story you’ve ever read.
If you read only one book this summer, make it this one. Sheer perfection.