‘The Library of the Unwritten’ is a fun fantasy adventure with a highly unique premise. Fast-paced and engaging, it’s an easy and enjoyable read.
Hell isn’t just a place where damned souls go where they die – it also plays host to the largest library in all existence. Within this library is the Unwritten Wing, shelves containing every book left unfinished by its author. Occasionally, characters within these books rise up and escape, trying to get their authors to finish them – and it’s the librarian’s job to track them down. When a hero escapes his book and manages to flee all the way to Earth, it’s down to Head Librarian Claire, her assistant Brevity, and junior demon Leto to track him down. However, when their retrieval is unexpectedly interrupted by an angel, a chase begins – one that could lead to war between Heaven and Hell.
Claire is a strong woman, with all the positives and negatives that brings. She takes her job as head librarian seriously, ruling with an iron fist coated in ink. She has no sympathy for characters who go walkabout, no matter how they plead – unlike her more empathetic assistant, Brevity. Claire is all ruthless competence and hard lines. However, as the story goes in, cracks start to appear in her armour – and beneath it is a flawed, struggling, and far more interesting woman. Claire makes a solid protagonist, and her love of books and the library will resonate with all bookworms.
Leto, in contrast, is an absolute sweetheart. He’s terrible at being a demon – he’s not even the slightest bit demonic – and ruled entirely by his heart. His heart isn’t on his sleeve, it’s on a neon sign flashing above his head at all times, and he’s all the more endearing for it. Leto struggles with the morality of Claire’s actions – just because characters bleed ink not blood doesn’t make them any less real – but even more with himself.
Brevity is a weaker character. A failed muse, sentenced to the library in punishment, she has just as much heart as Leto – but she spends so much time trying to be what people want her to be, she loses who she actually is herself. It’s never clear what she actually wants, and she falls somewhat flat as a result. Ironically, she feels more like a character than Hero, who’s genuinely leapt out of the pages of a book.
The worldbuilding is primarily Judeo-Christian, with Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory, but also encompasses other beliefs – Valhalla makes an appearance, as does an ancient Greek labyrinth. It’s superficial, but doesn’t need to go any deeper for a fantasy adventure. The plot isn’t the most original, with most of the twists and betrayals predictable – but this works reasonably well in a story that focuses on unwritten books and their archetypes. The real highlight is simply the idea of a library with unwritten books that characters can escape from as more-or-less fully fledged personalities. It’s clever, simple, and works brilliantly. AJ Hackwith winds in elements of found family and what is means to belong, creating a novel which might not be the strongest work of fiction but is a delight to read.
Overall, this is a fun fantasy adventure which will appeal to any bookworm – especially if they’ve ever been an aspiring writer. Recommended.
Published by Titan Books
Paperback: 11th February 2020