The Library at Mount Char was October’s pick for the Sword & Laser book club, as a “Sword” pick (meaning fantasy) and something meant to be mildly horror adjacent (as co-host Veronica Belmont doesn’t handle horror well – which is fine). The book itself is some okay splatter horror with a side of urban fantasy, but it didn’t quite land for me.
Library at Mount Char is a somewhat non-linear novel told partly from the perspective of Carolyn, one of a group of adoptive siblings raised by a being known only as “father”, who – after their parents were killed – adopted them and forced each of them to study various portfolios to serve, effectively, eventually as god-like figures. However, in the process, he horrifically abused each of them – never sexually, but frequently violently, in multiple cases brutally murdering them and then resurrecting them. That said, the siblings have sexually abused each other (so content warning for sexual assault in addition to violent death). However, now “Father” is dead, and the siblings now have to figure out who killed him, what to do about his enemies who are coming and would like to destroy the world, and who should take his place as Godhead.
We see this story through, again, the perspective of Carolyn, whose portfolio is languages (more on that later), along with a pair of other regular humans who get caught up in events – war hero Erwin and small-time B&E guy Steve. They provide some real grounding to the story, which helps because by the time the story has started Carolyn and all of her siblings lost whatever grasp on their humanity they had a long, long time ago.
That perhaps leads to one of the biggest problems of the story. Carolyn is our main viewpoint character, and she’s almost completely lost touch with her humanity and loses more and more of it as the story goes on. This is made more awkward because Carolyn’s “portfolio” is languages. As I’ve learned following multiple translators in anime & video games over almost a decade, part of what’s important when it comes to doing translation is a cultural understanding of your language and the language you’re translating into. You don’t just need to know the words, you need to know the cultural context for them.
For example, “The nail that sticks up will be hammered down,” is a Japanese expression that has multiple applications that stresses the importance of conformity and not standing out (with a slightly implied weight for collective action instead of individual action) – whereas an American expression I’ve encountered that has an almost (but not quite) opposite meaning is “The squeaky wheel gets the grease,” meaning that standing out by calling for action will, eventually, get action taken to address the call (this is not always true, but bear with me). I bring up those examples, because by the end of the book it feels like Carolyn does not understand what these expressions mean. There’s a global famine going on due to her actions, and she doesn’t understand why that’s bad. It makes it feel like the author doesn’t understand what it means to speak a language, or has spent any time partaking in a work that has been translated from a language that isn’t English.
That said, there are parts of this I liked. The book has what feels like a hallucinatory mix of the supernatural and the mundane, tempered with horrific amounts of gruesome violence that reminds me of Panos Cosmatos films (particularly Mandy), combined with some of my favorite parts of The Beyond by Lucio Fulci. That said, Cosmatos handles his tonal consistency better. I’ve encountered multiple works of anime and manga that have handled the shift from the mundane to the mythic, with a similar apocalyptic conclusion so much better (for that matter, the Shin Megami Tensei series pulls this off regularly).
It reminds me of the issues I’ve encountered in SF Fandom that led to me ultimately dropping my fanzine – a not-insignificant chunk of the audience, both in terms of readers and writers, who are unwilling to step outside of their zone – whether due to lack of familiarity, time, inclination, or in the case of creators – concerns about accusations of plagiarism leading them to just stop taking in fiction.
I don’t hate this book. I just don’t like it enough to recommend it.
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