Pairs Well With: a full whiskey tumbler of everyone’s favourite cinnamon whiskey: Fireball. And yes, you read that right. A full 10 fluid ounces of that deliciously spicy whiskey oughta get you comfortable enough to deal with hellish Horrors, raucous Vikings, spiteful fictitious love interests, and the concept of a Library existing within Hell. Alongside that, brew and sip on a cup of Earl Grey tea; a beverage of the snootiest variety, and posh enough to make you feel like a kindred spirit of our librarian protagonist (just make sure you brew it correctly!).
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Author: A.J. Hackwith
Rating: 3 Out Of 5 Whiskey Shots
Synopsis: While the rest of Hell is busy with subterfuge, temptation, and sending Hellhounds to tear apart lost souls, Claire busies herself with caring for the Library; a dissociated section of Hell divided into two main wings. Claire heads the Unwritten Wing; a sort of waiting room/final resting place for stories that have yet to be finished by their authors. And though the occasional book may come to life and cause a bit of a stir, things are usually quiet in the Library. That is, until pages from a dangerous codex are discovered and set into motion a potential war between Heaven and Hell, with Earth being the preferred battleground. Racing against the clock and dodging threats—both fictional and ethereal alike—Claire and a group of misfits must charge across the Afterlife to solve the mystery of why the pages have resurfaced, and who is the mysterious force that is fighting so hard to obtain them?
Overall Impression: Hmm… I liked this book. I didn’t hate it, and I’m certainly nowhere close to loving it, but I did like it. A far step from perfection, and (in my opinion) in dire need of refinement of concepts and clarified direction, this was a book that held the promise of coaxing your interest close to its bosom. The Library of the Unwritten is an admirable first novel in a new series, and it gets many things right; one of them being the pacing of the action scenes. But upon closing the book, it left me hoping, not to return to the world of Hell’s Library, but if the concepts presented in this book will be clarified in the followup novel. Not a great taste for a book to leave on your metaphorical tongue.
Still, this is a fun title with a lot of promise and moves along at a clip that fuels the intrigue of the central conflict.
The Cheers: First off, who doesn’t love libraries? It’s easy to tell this book was a love story to libraries (as the book Libriomancer is a love story to books themselves), and that’s a love that comes across clearly throughout this novel. Characters are constantly defending and seeking refuge in the Library of Hell, or in the vast halls of Valhalla where we get to hear bards weave spectacular tales. The written word is adored and respected within these pages, and whenever a book appears in a scene, it’s impossible not to see the author, Hackwith, smiling.
The redefinition of Hell and Heaven were interesting, as well. As were the investigations into “dead” belief systems and what remains of the Afterlife when no one remains to believe in them. I also loved that books in the Unwritten Wing are mischievious, and that they come to life! Every reader I know can attest to the magic—to the pulse of life—coursing through a book as they read it. Walk into a library or a bookstore and try to tell me there’s not something mystical, or damned near reverent about the place. And the idea that books in The Library of the Unwritten actually come to life and cause mayhem is phantastic!
The realms and landscapes our ragtag squad visits are incredibly fun to witness. From the familiar (if not somewhat exotic) vistas of Earth, to the waiting room of Heaven, to the endless hallways of Hell, and more, there’s never a shortage of fun places to look around. I honestly felt like a tourist on a bus, whipping my head around to try and take it all in.
The Hangover: So… What are the Unwritten novels? I know this seems like a concept that would be thoroughly explained, but unfortunately this isn’t the case. At one point, it seems like the Unwritten Wing holds onto stories that Earthly authors never got around to finishing, as in physically penning. But then, later on we’re told that the stories are there in the library before the authors are even born. And still further on we’re given a strange quasi-existential explanation about how the stories don’t even need to be jotted down for them to be labelled as unwritten, or incomplete.
Do you see the dilemma?
There’s no set definition for what these stories are, or why they exist. And further adding to the headache of ill-explained pivotal concepts is a whole bevy of half conceived notions that change their intent and meaning as the story progresses. Very little actually makes sense in this book. It feels as if the author was writing out the story from the seat of her pants, and inadvertently changed the definition of certain concepts as she went, but never went back to correct for literary consistency. Don’t get me wrong. There are a lot of cool ideas in this book, but that so few of them are fleshed out and consistent really destroys complete immersion in this novel.
There are also small nitpicks I could list: clunky dialogue, unsympathetic characters, foggy motivations, and so on. But few of these are so offensive as to cause the novel to be unreadable. Possibly one of the oddest issues I had was how empty Heaven, Hell, and Earth feel. This is a common problem within Christina Henry’s novel Alice as well; these places just seem totally barren of life, though we’re told they’re full of people and creatures, however we never see it; and this creates an odd sensation.
Yes, the worst offense this work commits is in its ambiguous intention and fluid concepts; a lack of explanation so as to offer the reader the chance at full understanding and, subsequently, total immersion.
Corking the Bottle: As stated above, The Library of the Unwritten is no masterclass in the craft of writing. But neither is it worthy of being discarded for the few flaws I listed prior. This is a fun book to read that offers new and unique perspectives on the Afterlife and the fate of stories that go unfinished on a writer’s desk. The Library of the Unwritten is the first in a new series by A.J. Hackwith, and will greatly appeal to audiences looking for a sprawling adventure centered on the greatest things ever invented: libraries and the books they house.
**The second book in the Novels from Hell’s Library series, The Archive of the Forgotten, is set to be released on October 6th of this year, 2020. You can pre-order this title through Barnes and Noble and Amazon. And if you would like to see a review of the second book, please comment below to let us know.**