Took a chance with a book recommendation from a book club.
Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins.
It turned out to be quite unlike any other book I have read before.
Bending and twisting genres of mystery, fantasy, magic realism, apocalypse, horror, surrealism, fable, and the bizarre, it churns out an epic tale of pain, unrequited love, hope, hate and cruelty, consisting of well etched characters, most of them with godlike powers locked in a quest for power, truth and ultimate control over the universe. The plot and the theme, makes you race through the book without pausing to pay attention to the narrative style or prose.
Twelve children orphaned after a horrific incident are adopted by a shadowy and ancient figure they refer to as Father and are raised as pupils or apprentices in a library, away from the human world they knew as kids. They are trained in twelve different skills relating to catalogs and are strictly forbidden from crossing the boundaries of their own catalogs and from even letting their thoughts trespass into another catalog. The training steadily dehumanizes, shatters their sensibilities and erodes their moral compass and some are left completely soulless with a terrifyingly cruel and ruthless streak. The main character Carolyn is a librarian and linguist par extraordinaire, Jennifer has mastery over her catalog and can not only heal but can also bring beings back from the dead, Michael can commune and bond with the animal world, David is well versed in war, combat and handling pain, while the others are trained in various other catalogs relating to abilities like viewing various possible futures, foretell, Mathematics and more. Some catalogs are way more frightening and devastating than the others. Something that binds them all together apart from being orphans under the abusive and strict care of Father is an utterly horrible sense of fashion, having been isolated from civilization for well over two decades. Things take an eventful turn after the disappearance of Father almost quarter of a century after they have been adopted and they suddenly find themselves locked out of the library with an invisible and sinister shield blocking them from entering. Even as their quest for locating Father continues unabated, the competition for gaining power over the universe and the library commences, as Father’s ancient enemies rise and the apocalyptic tension bubbles and threatens to topple the already precarious balance of power between some of the apprentices. Given their harsh upbringing (an understatement) and the current events, even as the last vestiges of humanity are chipped away from the strong willed Carolyn, a memory and tremulous connection with a normal human keeps her and the overall story somewhat delicately anchored and centered…without spiraling into an abyss of darkness, desolation, despair and hate.
Elements reminiscent of Neil Gaiman’s brand of fantasy, world of Narnia, graphic gaming action sequences, infused with Quentin Tarantino movie like terrible violence and gore, Matrix like world versions theme, Lovecraftian horror of cosmic proportions…all this in a compact novel of adult fiction with sequel potential, makes for a strangely compelling read.
Though unusual and offbeat, the book boasts of an impressive fan following and high ratings and I can see why. Maybe it is mainstream and the generation gap makes me label it as offbeat. Nevertheless not for the weak-hearted this one, with its excess levels of savage brutality and nightmarish violence.