Hail the Amazon Gods for recommending this book about American Gods while I was shopping the other day! I am sad that I didn’t know about it when it was released last year, but am oh so thankful to have had this experience now. Fans of Neil Gaiman are in for a treat.
In his debut novel, Scott Hawkins has created a darkly weird world of adult librarians, who were essentially kidnapped by Father when they were eight years old and brought into the infinite Library at Mount Char to study and work. The librarians have been trained in twelve catalogues – one category per child, with strict instructions on not discussing/sharing your catalogue with another.
David (master of the war catalogue) and Margaret (master of the dead catalogue) have story lines that are the most violent and brutal, and some of the scenes concerning David, frankly, I could have lived without, but what do you expect from a character who is the master of the war catalogue? His story line is not going to be about eating cupcakes in the park with his girlfriend. The violence is necessary for the subject matter. After all, one does not get to be a God without being burned alive a time or two. As examples of other catalogue subjects, Rachel’s catalogue involves the prediction and manipulation of possible futures. Carolyn is the master of all languages.
So. Back to the plot. Father is dead, and maybe one of his librarians killed him (I don’t want to spoil it for you) and maybe another one of his many enemies killed him. All of the librarians are completely out of touch with humanity and arguably insane now that they are in their 30s. It made me think of our world leaders, and how out of touch they must all be with their respective citizens. (Oh, do you not have the sun anymore? Food is a problem for you now? And I am to understand that you don’t like that?)
I was also quite amused by the zombies in the suburbs. Hey, I know these people! Wait a minute, am I one of these people?! Just kidding. I am pretty sure I am not one of the reanimated dead. But, you never know who your neighbors are…
I think what I enjoyed the most about this read is how Hawkins brought the story full-circle towards the end of the book. We learn more about Father and his relationships with his librarians, specifically, with his protege that he has been grooming all this time to take over his position. Many times, after I am finished with a book, I am still left with a lot of questions that I wish were tied up by the author. Challenging your readers is great, and Hawkins does this in the beginning and the middle. The end is tied up quite nicely for you, and I appreciate that. I want to know what the author thinks he’s written! Tell me a story. Don’t tell me a set of circumstances and then leave me sitting over here pissed off contemplating like a jerk for days on end – “Well, what did it all mean?”
I think that is a skill that is quite rare, and I hate it when the author doesn’t address the big “Why” questions.
Great job, Hawkins! This is one of the best books I have read in many years. I am so glad I purchased this one, because I marked the copy up quite a bit, and will no doubt be returning for a second read next summer. This is one that I am betting will read different to me after knowing how it ends.