Disclaimer: I am not a writer. Ok. I started one novel a year ago that got through the prologue and a couple chapters, then stopped and it has gone nowhere since. Point being, any comments I make to the relationship between the premise of the book and authors is based on sympathy that I have from an outside perspective. One that has been cultivated from things observed.
Should I write anything wrong from this perception, I would ask for correction and guidance as I ABSOLUTELY mean no harm and have the utmost respect, and reverence for the craft in which you endeavor. I am more grateful than you will ever know for ALL that authors do and suffer through for the gifts you bestow upon the world.
Thank you ACE/Berkley/Penguin, NetGalley and Edelweiss for providing an ARC for an honest review
The Library of the Unwritten (A Novel From Hell’s Library #1) by A.J. Hackwith (Q and A) was not what I expected. When I read the synopsis:
Many years ago, Claire was named Head Librarian of the Unwritten Wing—a neutral space in Hell where all the stories unfinished by their authors reside. Her job consists mainly of repairing and organizing books, but also of keeping an eye on restless stories that risk materializing as characters and escaping the library. When a Hero escapes from his book and goes in search of his author, Claire must track and capture him with the help of former muse and current assistant Brevity and nervous demon courier Leto.
But what should have been a simple retrieval goes horrifyingly wrong when the terrifyingly angelic Ramiel attacks them, convinced that they hold the Devil’s Bible. The text of the Devil’s Bible is a powerful weapon in the power struggle between Heaven and Hell, so it falls to the librarians to find a book with the power to reshape the boundaries between Heaven, Hell … and Earth.
I automatically knew two things.
- I had to have this book.
- I didn’t think I had… well a chance in hell of getting said book.
I now know two things.
- I was right about point 1 stated above.
- I was wrong about #2 and I am SO happy to have been wrong.
I expected a fantasy bending into almost horror story. I expected a thriller, suspenseful book. And I expected a book that from an author’s point of view paid homage to the plight of authors who started, stopped, started, stopped again, started and even when having finished a novel; having gone through SO MANY levels of revisions, neither they, the story and characters reflected the original draft. Hell, they were lucky if they reflected themselves.
On the latter Hackwith does this, I believe, from the sidekick being named brevity to the explanation of how living authors sometimes will, or at least could, come back to the stories of the unwritten and the authors who die before finishing works, obviously could not. Claire, the head librarian of the Unwritten Wing, even has some locked up works of her own that might hold a secret or two. But for those newly inventoried books that are still ready for their authors to return to their drafts, Claire keeps them carefully together and ready for their creator’s return.
The book on the desk was one of the young ones, one that still had a chance of being written by its author someday… The impressionable young book now had all sorts of rubbish jumbled in its still-sprouting narrative… complete nonsense for an unwritten tale about teenage witches in love.
It is through the characters (both those written and unwritten) that Hackwith has created with a spectrum of emotional depth, that easily demonstrate both how the story is a homage to authors and not quite the former point I will get to in a bit. My heart was stolen by a story that had convinced itself it had a purpose. It was, of course, not yet finished but it had seen something in what was completed. So, it took the form of a girl, no, a character Claire had to remind Brevity. And Brevity, still the young apprentice has a harder time accepting the difference between what is a character that looks, acts and feels so much like a human than actually being a human.
“Yeah, but she seemed so scared. She was just-
“Characters aren’t human, Brev. You always should remember that as a librarian. They’ll convince themselves they’re people, but if you allow them to convince you, then…” Claire trailed off, dismissing the rest of that thought with a twitch of her shoulders.
It is in the former point that I was wrong about the style of the story and once I understood where it was going, I was all in. The Library of the Unwritten is sci-fi/fantasy, as you would expect. But it doesn’t bend into the horrific or thriller area. Yes, of course it has suspenseful parts. There is, of course, an archangel (Ramiel) attempting to get back into heaven by chasing down, what he believes is the Devil’s Bible.
When a young demon named Leto (and man does he hate being referred to as young) comes to let Claire know that a book has escaped to find his author, a very dangerous prospect that Claire and Brevity must rectify at once. It becomes quite clear that this is going to be a riot. And it is. Much like the movie Dogma (but definitely not R-rated), it is all at once, hysterical, poignant, heartfelt and quite unexpected.
The chemistry between Claire and Leto is instantaneous with brilliant banter and a complicated (but not ever romantic) relationship arc. Her constant assault and commanding of Leto were unyielding, from her list of insulting nicknames for Lucifer that made Leto’s blood boil to ordering him around like an errand boy. The unlikely trio of Brevity, Claire and Leto were a perfect mismatch of personality traits. Brevity, the constant loyal assistant, Leto the constant thorn in the side, questioning everything and anything – including paying for a taxi ride with a story.
“A story.” Claire watched the cab pull away. “I paid him in a story, his story. It’s all most souls want, really, so it’s easy for them to accept.”
It didn’t sit right with Leto. “But we cheated him. It’s a lie.”
Each chapter is told from Claire, Leto, Brevity and Ramiel’s point of view, which makes the Library of the Unwritten jump off the page. Utilizing multiple points of view showcases how easily we’re all triggered by love, guilt, desire, needs, wants and sometimes just to be seen, to be validated… as people.
Sometimes it is easy to look around and see the world as a book and we as characters in the story, driven by these emotions. Add Hackwith’s ability to demonstrate them through a mix of people, angels and characters is truly a credit to her craft.
Without giving away too much about the plot that would spoil the fun, there are a host of side characters and realms that are explored. Although I haven’t talked a ton about Hackwith’s world building because I believe some of it will playout more in the second book and this was a bit hard to write without spoiling things- know that from Seattle to hell and back again- the world building was as well done as the characters.
These pieces combined with very sketchy details of how Claire came to lead her wing of the Devil’s library, why Brevity is no longer an official Muse, and what I found to be a pretty gut-punching reveal towards the end, does well to set-up book two.