Book Review: The Library of the Unwritten (Hell’s Library, #1)

Book Review: The Library of the Unwritten (Hell’s Library, #1)

The Library of the Unwritten by A.J. Hackwith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’d like to thank NetGalley and the publisher (Ace) for providing me with a complementary copy of this book in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

“No story is insignificant.”

Books are one of the most magical of mankind’s creations. Our ability to tell ourselves stories, to reshape reality and craft worlds of our own using nothing more than ink and page and the random scribblings we’ve agreed on as an alphabet, is in my opinion one of our most human capacities. Every life is a story, and those who write have been gifted with the rare talent for immortalizing the tales that live inside their minds. But what about the rest of us? What about those of us whose minds are filled with stories that we never find time to jot down, or authors who pass away with a multitude of tales still living inside them that never made their way onto shelves next to their kin? Where do those stories go? Do they die along with us, or does the world find a way to keep them? According to Hackwith, it’s the latter.

“Stories are, at the most basic level, how we make sense of the world.”

Imagine if you will a library of sheer potential. Unwritten tales from the inception of human language all the way through the nebulous future, tales whose authors died centuries ago and have yet to be born. Stories that will be written and those that have lost their chance forever. All of that potential under one roof would assuredly need a guardian. That’s where Claire comes in.

“We think stories are contained things, but they’re not. Ask the muses. Humans, stories, tragedies, and wishes—everything leaves ripples in the world. Nothing we do is not felt; that’s a comfort. Nothing we do is not felt; that’s a curse.”

Claire is the current Librarian in charge of the Library of the Unwritten, located in Hell but not technically part of Hell. She is an unauthor, one who had countless stories to tell yet never penned a single one. She died with regrets, and will be in charge of the Library until she can make peace with herself. Her assistant, Brevity, is a former muse, cast out for keeping her inspiration to herself instead of doling it out to mankind. Rounding out the cast of perspective characters is Leto, a fledgling demon who isn’t who he thinks he is, and Ramiel, a fallen angel trying to find his way back into heaven.

“Stories can die. Of course they can. Ask any author who’s had an idea wither in their head, fail to thrive and bear fruit. Or a book that spoke to you as a child but upon revisiting it was silent and empty. Stories can die from neglect, from abuse, from rot… Honor the stories that speak to you, that give you something you need to keep going. Cherish stories while they are here. There’s a reason the unwritten live on something as fragile as paper.”

We also meet other angels and demons, along with gatekeepers and residents of Valhalla, psychopomps of dead realms and unwritten books made flesh. The compendium of characters is almost as varied as the Library that Claire has sworn to protect. But a quest to locate and protect scattered pages of an insanely powerful text might find the realms, including the Library, falling down around them. If they don’t sabotage themselves first.

“Mark my words, souls are made of tougher stuff. You can wear one down, tear one apart, unspool all the thread, shave a piece off even, but destroy one? I imagine there’s an end, somewhere… But even an end is just where you run out of book. Stories change, and stories go on. Maybe souls do too.”

There was more action in the story than I expected. Not only was there a constant sense of frantically striving to stay a step ahead of pursuers, there were also duels and rituals that could end in death and a pretty epic battle scene towards the end. My favorite of these elements was a duel between librarians, where words were wielded as actual weapons. Tossing appropriate quotations at your opponent’s head like missiles is one of the best visuals I’ve come across.

“Books are knowledge weaponized.”

I love the concept of this book. A library of stories that never found their way into books, of that have yet to be written? That sounds like paradise to me. Which is why the thought of said Library existing inside Hell threw me off a bit. But once I got past that, I found Claire and her biblio-charges and comrades in arms very intriguing. Hackwith wrote a plethora of snappy, memorable lines about books and stories and authors that I believe will really stick with me. I highlighted and annotated like a madwoman.

“Books have songs, songs have stories, and then there’re humans at the heart of the jumbled mess… you just can’t subtract a human from the story, no matter how hard you try. Even death doesn’t do that.”

There were times when I felt that the author was almost trying too hard to be both utterly original and completely inclusive, and that the two elements were fighting for dominance. This made for some muddy passages that were more difficult to get through than they should have been. However, this could also be due to the fact that I had a lot going on in my life and was unable to find the time to read this more quickly. Overall, Hackwith created something special and new in the form of The Library of the Unwritten, and I’ll be very interested to see where the story goes from here. It’s a series that I will most certainly continue.

“Go. Be good. No—be better than good: be happy.”

You can purchase a copy of the book here, with free shipping worldwide!

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