Scott Hawkins’ 2015 The Library at Mount Char is a standalone contemporary fantasy.
Retrieved from certain doom by neighbor Adam Black (or as he prefers to be called, “Father”), Caroline and her young companions — David, Margaret, Michael and Richard, Jacob, Felicia, Jennifer, Lisa, Peter, Alicia, and Rachel — are taken on as apprentices. Father’s methods are brutal but effective. Each child is forced to master one of Father’s twelve catalogues of skills. As wielders of the uncanny, they are outmatched only by the omnicompetent Father himself.
Now Father has vanished. And someone has cast a magical barrier around the dimensional intrusion that is the library; none of the twelve can cross the barrier. They are marooned outside the library.
Someone who was not one of the targeted twelve might be able to simply ignore the barrier.
Steve is determined not to go back to prison and hides his past as a burglar. But Father’s apprentices are skilled at uncovering dark secrets. Caroline is certain that Steve will be the perfect tool to deal with the barrier. She knows that the library has defences against mortal intrusion, defences to which Steve is in no way immune, defences he would not test if he had a choice… so she tempts him with a different job, one she assures him will be quick and easy. He ends up languishing in prison on charges of murdering a cop.
But not for long! Because David, master of violence, retrieves Steve from the police, leaving a trail of carnage behind him.
Caroline convinces a skeptical Steve that she can make all charges go away. When Father or his apprentices talk, she assures him, even the President listens. Accompanied by unlikely allies (two lions) Steve ventures into Garrison Oaks to look for the innocuous item on which the barrier spell was cast. Garrison Oaks is a subdivision of the damned; Steve will be doing well to escape alive, let alone unharmed.
Breaching the barrier will bring no comfort. Father’s greatest enemy has struck. Father’s domination of our universe is over. An age of chaos looms and in the carnage to come, even the sun itself will die.
This is one of those books I hate that I also know will be wildly popular. The very things that make me want to throw the book across the room are the specific elements that apparently appeal to a wide cross-section of readers.
The Library on Mount Char is heavy on graphically described violence; people have their eyes poked out and jaws ripped off, bullets make heads explode, a girl has an axe buried in her head, a boy is baked alive, and one person is condemned to what is supposed to be eternal torture. In addition to the retail slaughter, millions or perhaps even billions die once the Big Plan really gets rolling. It’s an easy way to show the stakes are high. Not one I like, but I am clearly in the minority.
The Library on Mount Char is also pretty rape-heavy (albeit mostly off-stage). David, master of war and violence, can easily overpower and rape his fellow students and does so whenever the whim takes him. The only woman he leaves alone is the healer, the person on whom David depends for resurrections.
When I was keeping a tally of sexual assaults in the new fiction I read, around a third of the mystery, fantasy, and science fiction novels featured abuse of women. This trend lasted for years, broken only by one statistical spike. Forty-seven novels with graphic rape scenes, not a fun month and a half. But readers (or at least enough readers) must like this stuff, because it keeps getting published and keeps selling.
The book isn’t arguing that the only choices available are brutality and abuse. In fact, it tries to make the case that people with godlike powers should show some compassion for their unfortunate neighbours. The author carefully explains that what Father did to the kids was the least bad of his available choices. Bah, I say. It’s as contrived as “The Cold Equations”.