Review of The Library of the Unwritten by A. J. Hackwith

Every book left unfinished by its author is filed away in the Unwritten Wing, a neutral space in Hell presided over by Claire, its head librarian. Along with repairing and organizing books, her job consists of keeping an eye on restless stories whose characters risk materialising 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, in a chase that threatens to reshape the boundaries between Heaven, Hell… and Earth.

First of all this is such an amazing concept for a story, I was totally pulled in by the blurb and as a book worm, the idea of reading a book about books is a total no brainer. The idea that Hell has areas up for rent is brilliant in itself, and whilst the idea of unwritten books materialising isn’t new the approach that the Librarian must keep the characters both within their books and happy is a new one for me. I really enjoyed how each chapter was laid out, even with mixed POV’s, each chapter was anchored by some sage wisdom from earlier librarians and even from Claire herself which was a nice touch. We even go back to the beginnings of AD and a great take on the burning of the library at Alexandria. It’s those kinds of touches that blew me away quite honestly, so much thought going into the ideas and explaining alternative takes.

The story itself was solidly laid out, a librarian, a muse, a demon, and an escaped book character are on the run from Angels trying to get pages of an important codex back to hell. Their journey taking them across all manner of different plains, from Valhalla – where we get to enjoy the most unusual yet satisfying of battles, to an almost ancient Egyptian ideology of the weighing scales. To me it felt like they were traversing their own levels of hell to get back to their start point. There is plenty going on in between as the characters learn more about themselves and each other, some reveals surprising and some which I felt were just a matter of time. I particularly enjoyed the Angels giving chase, they kind of reminded me of a film, part of me wants to say Dogma but I can’t quite place it at the moment. I definitely felt most invested during this middle section which had the most drive within the story and actually the place where all my sticky notes are housed.

Despite how amazing the ideas are and how much I loved the slightly sarcastic undertone of Claire (which totally reminded me of me) I can’t escape the fact that I did struggle with coming back to this book each day. I just couldn’t find that spark or the exciting pace that should have been there given that they were on the run and on a time limit. The important reveals blended into, rather than popped from the page and I struggled to connect with a lot of the characters. I admit though that I was easily distracted which is likely because I’ve been under the weather the last few days so I am carefully considering my rating because I know this and I may have felt differently had I read this in a months time perhaps. I did feel that there was a lot that probably could have been pared down given it’s fair size and the story wouldn’t have missed one less obstacle in their way. The story was wrapped up nicely though and I’m interested to see where it goes next as this read very much like a standalone but apparently is a series. I hope we get more Brevity as I actually think she’s my favourite character.

This was a good enjoyable read though, with many aspects of thoughtful prose that is written to be appreciated and savoured. I don’t think I’ve ever used so many sticky notes on a book when a particular sentence or idea has resonated, the author really does have a skill for storytelling and I’ll likely continue on with the series, mainly because I’m curious about where thing go from here.

3.5

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