The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins opens on a brutal scene. Our protagonist, Carolyn, is walking down the street drenched in blood, walking toward home after murdering a police officer and hoping she won’t be forced by circumstance to murder any of the people slowing down to offer her help. And from there it goes on to more and more gruesome horrors and grisly scenes of murder and torture.

If that were all there were to The Library at Mount Char  I would have tossed it across the room, but there is so much more. It is hard to describe without ruining the wonderful progression from horror to curiosity to realization and at last to understanding. It really is important to your enjoyment of the book to come to a gradual realization of just who Carolyn and her siblings are.

However, I can say they were orphans adopted by a man they call Father, a man who assigned each of them a catalog in his library to study and to master. Carolyn’s catalog is languages and she learns all the languages of the world, even the lost languages of the past. Others learn the catalogs of healing, of war, of death, of the future, of the animal world and so on. None of them are allowed to learn about the others’ catalogs or share the information of their own catalog. Father is a strict and relentless teacher whose cruel methods horrify.

Other characters include a war hero named Erwin-just Erwin, a fierce lion named Dresden and his daughter Naga (short for Nagasaki), and Steve, a plumber who aspires to be a Buddhist without quite knowing how, though he finds his way.

There is a strange dichotomy in The Library of Char. On the one hand, it is this gruesome struggle for power and survival. On the other, there are moments of madcap humor. The zany juxtaposed with the grisly is kind of jarring, but for some reason it works. These “librarians” wield tremendous power with mundane ordinariness. They do not really know who or what they are, what the implications of their powers are. Or maybe they do, but seek the mundane to find some tether to reality?

4pawsIf you had asked my opinion of this book during the first hundred pages, it would have been more negative than positive. It is gruesome, horrifying, and grisly in all the worst possible ways. At the end of it, now, I find myself liking it quite a bit and hoping the possibility of a sequel implied at the end will come to pass. I will definitely read it. I am surprised, now, by how very much I enjoyed the book. Maybe even a little troubled. Why do I like something so gruesome?

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

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