Library of the Unwritten – by A.J. Hackwith (Review)

Hell’s Library #1

Supernatural, Fantasy

Ace Books; October 1, 2019

384 pages (ebook)

2.3 / 5 ✪

I was kindly furnished with a copy in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to both Ace and NetGalley for the review copy! All opinions are my own.

Business Corrupts

Set in a corporate supernatural world, Library of the Unwritten was an interesting idea that in practice just did not work for me. Possessed of an unfulfilling story of loss and redemption, Unwritten tries to fit many different genres but is ultimately fails to find its way. While a decent supernatural adventure, the story was neither mysterious nor thrilling enough to succeed as either. I was never quite sure where the story was going next as it combined uninspired chases and lame battles with the politics of heaven and hell, neither of which ever felt very tangible, and sported plot-holes and inconsistencies.

The Chief Librarian of the Unwritten Wing, Claire Juniper Hadley, has had better days. An Unwritten Tale has slipped out of Hell and escaped to the mortal realm. Worse still, the tale—which has taken on the handsome, winsome guise of Hero—has contacted its would-be author, an event that never ends well for the person involved. And so Claire and her ragtag band of champions must track the tale down and return it to the library before too much harm is done. And yet there is a wrinkle in their plan. For Angelic Warden, and initially dim investigator, Ramiel attacks them, believing the party in possession of a corrupt codex—the Devil’s Bible.

Thus begins an epic adventure to find the real Devil’s Bible before the legion of Heaven can, in order to prevent a war between Heaven and Hell.

Okay, so first: the reasoning of much of this setup is… loose, at best. From Ramiel attacking them all half-cocked at the beginning, from the actions of Hero throughout, even to Claire and Brevity—no character stays “in character”. I mean, they just act chaotically from time to time and then return to normal, with no questions asked or conflicts of identity. Ramiel particularly begins as a patient Watcher, then shows incredible impatience for a chapter, then is back to normal, with nothing more about the lapse said. I feel like the war between Heaven and Hell was meant to lend the text an element of thrill and anticipation, but it really didn’t. The explanation of it made sense, but only kinda, and was readily accepted by everyone as canon.

Speaking of canon, the world-building was sadly incomplete. Though half the prominent characters of Unwritten are deceased souls, they consistently worried about being killed, even though they were already dead. About halfway through it was explained about how and why Hero (as an unwritten story) could die, which was something. I spent the whole thing wondering if this was one of those double-death things from the Sandman Slim universe (which I really hate, btw), but it was never addressed. The logic of Unwritten Wing itself can be pieced together through bits of lore and quotes in the foreword of each chapter, and frequent—if widely spaced—discussions in the text. While I began the story intrigued about the nature of unwritten books, by the middle I was confused and annoyed that it hadn’t been satisfyingly addressed.

The adventure itself is pretty run of the mill. Set in a fictionalized corporate Heaven and Hell, it seems that business has corrupted everything about the afterlife. Much like the middle seasons of Supernatural, the lines separating angels and demons, heaven and hell blurred to the point I would summarize it with the following—“Business Corrupts”. And it seems the afterlife is no different. But when a ragtag band of misfits sets out to save the world… I dunno, it just didn’t bear the weight.

TL;DR

Library of the Unwritten is definitely an outside-the-box idea. It definitely pushes the boundaries—only to fall flat on its face under the weight of expectation. The world-building is riddled with inconsistencies and holes. The characters are somehow neither predictable nor do they develop. Claire’s own arc, which runs parallel to the main story, felt uninspiring upon completion, though it never really grabbed me throughout. It was a thriller I didn’t find thrilling, a mystery I didn’t find mysterious. A fairly run of the mill adventure, found in a certainly new and exotic locale, possessed of a new and interesting idea. While I was initially intrigued at Unwritten’s prospect, it quickly soured. Though in all fairness, I don’t usually go for angels and demons as a genre. And while I’m constantly reminded by others that this is a great book, I just didn’t find it.

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