\Title: The Library of the Unwritten
Author: A. J. Hackwith
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Version: ARC – ebook
Page Count: 384
Publisher: Ace Books
Notable Notables: A book about stories, diverse, LGBTQA+ characters
Recommended Readers: Those wanting a dash of mythology to go along with their adventure
Thank you, NetGalley and the publisher, for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review—and sorry it’s a tad bit late.
I absolutely love any kind of content about angels, demons, heaven, hell, and the mortals trapped between them. I love written works that are themselves tributes to stories and storytelling. The Library of the Unwritten by A. J. Hackwith boasted all of the above, with an emphasis on unwritten stories and characters by unwritten authors. While I was overall more in love with the idea of this book than I was with the actual execution, there is still a fair amount of good I’d like to highlight with this review.
Our story begins with finding Claire Hadley as the current Head Librarian of Hell’s Unwritten Wing, one of the few neutral spaces in Hell, where it’s Claire’s job to repair and monitor all unwritten books. When a Hero awakens from one of the books and escapes to the mortal world to meet his Author, Claire leaves in pursuit along with her assistant Brevity and a nervous teenage demon, Leto, who seems more human than he ought to. In pursuit of the character and his book, the group runs afoul of fallen angel and Watcher Ramiel, who accuses them of having pages of the elusive Devil’s Bible. Claire and her motley crew, including the Hero and an old demon Arcanist named Andras, must locate the pages and return them to the library before any other angels or demons can get ahold of them—or risk a cosmic war and power imbalance between the realms.
I admit, the plot itself sounds very cool and tense but the execution left me wanting a lot more excitement. The Library of the Unwritten is a journey story, one where the characters must go here to retrieve this, then there to retrieve that, and so on and so forth. It’s also character-driven, the story told between four POVs—Claire’s, Leto’s, Brevity’s, and Ramiel’s—but I have to admit being interested in only Leto of that bunch. The other characters I gravitated to—Hero for his acerbic wit and charm, Andras for much of the same along with his politeness and cunning—were about the only things that held my attention as the story dragged on. They were entertaining if not a bit predictable, but I didn’t mind that so much.
Hero, especially, is just That Kind of Character that I instantly latch onto. Handsome, selfish, sarcastic, mocking—it was so fun to watch him grow as a character while also staying true to the core of himself. He doesn’t suddenly become nice beyond all recognition, which I’ve seen so many authors do with characters like this, so my hat’s off to Hackwith for that. Rather, he finds his tribe, compromises for no one else, and is still a cunning jerk, and I love that.
I could tell I was supposed to gravitate toward Claire in a big way, and I just didn’t. I had nothing against her per se; I was a lot more interested by those interacting with her than the other way around. Brevity, I also know next to nothing about. She’s a muse with blue hair, and that’s about it. I have so many questions about her status as a muse and how she came to be, how she’s an assistant in Hell’s library, and so much more, but very little light was shed on Brevity. She was definitely the weakest POV next to Ramiel’s.
What’s to be said about the angel anyway? He’s the typical lawful neutral trying to get back into Heaven’s good graces, but in this case, Heaven is Uriel, and she’s desperate and corrupt (I swear, if it’s not Gabriel, it’s always Uriel in these stories). I was more entertained by Uriel’s character design than I was by anything the angels were doing, especially once Ramiel starts doubting Uriel and her tactics.
And I mean, really? Veering-towards-evil, power-hungry angels? Now where have I seen that before?
In all honesty, the thing that bothered me the most was how the demons seemed actually good. Like, morally good. For instance, while I liked Leto, seeing him as a demon balk constantly at doing, seeing, or hearing about anything even approaching amoral gave me whiplash, and not in a fun way. In fact, nothing about hell seemed bad at all, and yeah, that’s boring, fam. I don’t read stuff about demons to learn how secretly sweet they are.
There is, however, a fair bit of diversity with the characters themselves. We have some POC characters, and the book is very open and flexible with many of the characters’ sexual orientations, which was great to see. Hero’s fluctuating orientation in particular was excellent; I loved how curious he was. However, there is not much approaching romance in this story; it’s one of those blink-and-you-miss-it situations, so don’t expect much there.
I enjoyed the bits of information I read about the Unwritten Wing; a big problem of the book, however, is that you aren’t there for the grand majority of the book. You learn about it piecemeal through characters asking questions, characters musing about it, and written excerpts from librarians and assistants at each chapter’s beginning. In the end, I have far more questions than I have an understanding about this place. I don’t feel that I have a firm grasp about the Library itself—how it truly operates, how it was established, why it operates in hell, how librarians are actually chosen, how assistants to succeed the current librarian are chosen, the list goes on. The Library feels more like a prop than a real setting in the book.
There are other realms, too, besides Earth, Heaven, and Hell, such as Valhalla and every other known afterlife, but I received little about how everything fits in the grand scheme of each other besides everything being delicately balanced. I got a hint of inter-realm politics and then it was over; the politics between demons and angels were a hint more interesting but barely. The book got going with this best during the climax and then fizzled out because the book ended. Speaking of, there are supposedly more books in the works, and while I can see a few things needing a follow-up, I can only hope Hackwith has more in mind for the plot than was set up here. Perhaps that’s the case, and I can’t see it yet.
I feel that some people will likely latch onto this bunch and the plot surrounding them much better than I did, especially since I was reading this book in-between an out-of-state work conference, New York Comic Con, and a move. Despite the writing and parts of the dialogue (thank you, Hero and Andras) being swell to read, there wasn’t much holding my attention. I had to push myself to sit down and read it versus fighting back the urge to read as I attended to all these adult responsibilities, and that’s never super fun. It felt more like another task on my list than an escape.
I’m going to keep a lookout for the sequel because I am interested in a few characters, but what the plot has in store will likely make or break the deal. The Library of the Unwritten was by no means a bad book; it just didn’t make much of an impression, especially compared to what I’d hoped for.