Updated: Dec 9, 2019
As soon as I saw the description for The Library of the Unwritten by A.J. Hackwith, I knew I had to get my hands on this book. First of all, it focuses on books, but also because it sounded like a fresh and innovative idea. I was definitely not disappointed.
TRIGGER WARNING: non-traditional views of Heaven/Hell, one character who has anxiety and experiences a panic attack, memory of inadvertently encouraging a suicide, mention of suicide
Claire has been head librarian of the Unwritten Wing for decades. It’s a place in Hell, where books that have not been finished by their authors go. Claire mostly organizes and fixes books, but she also watches for restless stories that run the risk of materializing as characters and escaping from the library. When one hero escapes from his book and goes in search of his author, Claire has to track him down with help from Brevity, a former muse that happens to be her current assistant, and the sweet but anxiety ridden demon, Leto.
It shouldn’t be a difficult task, but it goes sideways when Ramiel, a terrifying angel who is convinced that they are in possession of the Devil’s Bible, attacks them. This mysterious book is a weapon that can be used in the power struggle between Heaven and Hell. Claire and her team have to find this book before it falls into the wrong hands and changes the boundaries of Heaven, Hell, and Earth.
I expected this book to mainly take place in Hell, but I was very wrong about that. The settings varied way more than I had thought they would, and each location was richly imagined and uniquely different. Each location had it’s own sights, sounds, and smells, which were so vividly described that I felt as though I was there with the characters.
In reading a book about Heaven and Hell, it would seem that the lines of good and evil are pretty clear. However, those lines got pretty blurred for me, especially the further I got into the book. Claire is the first character we meet, and she is not your typical librarian. When thinking of a librarian, I tend to picture sweet, smiling, friendly women wearing cardigans (sorry to the male librarians, my local library only has female librarians). But Claire is way more than that. She’s emotionally distant and a bit jaded. She comes up with hilarious nicknames for Lucifer throughout the book that often made me laugh. Claire also showed the most personal growth throughout the book. Brevity and Leto also really came into their own throughout the book, and I absolutely loved almost all of the characters. Read the book, and you’ll know exactly who I didn’t like.
I loved this book with a passion. I noticed that it’s listed as the first in a series, and I am already looking forward to the next book. Maybe it’s because Claire and her crew were first to be introduced, or maybe it’s just because I adore books, but in this classic good vs. evil showdown, I found myself wanting the librarians to win. Heaven didn’t seem like the clear-cut good guys. After reading this, I swear, I will never look at librarians the same way again.
The book had themes of friendship, loyalty, and of course, sacrifice and redemption. But I think the thing that I found most fascinating about The Library of the Unwritten was the way it didn’t subscribe to traditional gender roles for certain characters. I was pleasantly surprised to find certain characters were a different gender than what is traditionally assumed of them in religious texts and interpretations. While this is a book about Heaven and Hell, it isn’t religious at all. The topic of suicide was also addressed in two separate incidents, and I found that it was handled rather sensitively and appropriately. Rather than attributing the religious judgment, it went right to the heart of the act – that people who are suffering often see it as a way to stop their pain. I understand that it can be difficult and triggering for some people to read, but I think that discussing it in this way helps to reduce the stigma. We definitely need more books from A.J. Hackwith, because this one is absolutely brilliant.
People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn't an upper limit.
Gasp Factor: 14
Overall Rating: 5 out of 5 stars