The Library of the Unwritten by A J Hackwith

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The Library of the Unwritten by A J Hackwith

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 2/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A rampantly inventive calling card for the author's imagination, and an homage to Neil Gaiman comics, but one where you feel throughout to have nothing invested in the story, even when so many of us indirectly might appear.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 448 Date: February 2020
Publisher: Titan Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1789093179

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Bear with me, this summary is not going to be forced into the intended, one breath length. In this world, there is a corner of Hell that is employed to look after all the world's incomplete stories. (You'd think Heaven would look after literature, but as it has no loss, no need and no variation from heavenly norm, you can't have any decent narrative there.) Now and again something happens to the restless creativity on show – characters come to life as embodiments of the books they're in, and can even breach through to the human world. As a result of one such incidence, our heroine Claire has gone to Seattle to force a Hero type back into ink form, but has failed, resulting in him still living. But it's also brought something much more important close to the fore – at the same time as this, a human at the Pearly Gates has tried to bribe his way in by yielding a page of what is claimed to be Satan's Bible. The humble (and humbled) gatekeeper, the angel Ramiel, is on the hunt, but such is the import that Claire and her cohorts also feel the need to chase what fragments of it are floating about our world.

Now, there is one thing to say about this book that felt a negative to me, but will be its unique selling point for many others. And that thing is that this is all incredibly Neil Gaimanesque. So often images from his comics came to my mind. No, these librarians aren't his librarians, and what's in this library isn't in his, and no these aren't exactly his fallen angels, but they are so close, even when utterly inverted. God is absent, and the person in charge of an establishment in this mythos packs up and naffs off, leaving a power vacuum behind. All these ideas have been in either the Sandman stories or some other from Gaiman's pen. Heck, even the sense of humour employed here is a close kin to his.

In all, this was a book I grudgingly admired, but never got to really enjoy. In thrusting a lot of rich detail at us the book loses all sense of brevity (which is utterly ironic, seeing as we actually have a major character called Brevity here). I saw a lot that I would have preferred to have been trimmed back, or excised completely. Amongst what I did think admirable was the actual concept to start with, and what it allows our author to say about literature and the life that stories have. Let's face it, so many of us would have come up with a concept for a novel that has never seen the light of day – we all have a presence in this Library, therefore. So why did I feel that so much of this was low on affect? Hero's stumbling trip to life seems at one point to be just an extended set up for a weak punchline, and for so much of act one I was too often wondering to what end we were being told about anything that was happening.

Don't get me wrong – this author, hiding behind her anonymous initials, can write. Several scenes have more than the required oomph and drama. But that 'more than' is the key – in the alternative universe where I edited this book I would have reined things in, and made sure, for the sake of the author's levels of invention and this and any future books, that some things were held back. There is a surfeit of creativity at times, and this splurge only as a result reminded me of one more in my ongoing series of semi-useful cinematic references. For these pages gave me the same feeling the second Hellboy movie did. It too seems flash, but is too much concerned in the small detail when the bigger picture needed looking at. It too features a gallimaufry of the fantastical, but even when it boils down to a major battle between the powers of good and evil, it utterly, utterly failed to convince me that this whole affair meant diddly squat to us humans in our world. So this, like del Toro's flop, is pretty, and energetic, and well-intentioned, but is severely lacking in our empathy for what it wants to dramatise.

I must still thank the publishers for my review copy.

The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep by H G Parry has great fun with lifting characters we do know, from finished novels, off the page and into reality.

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