Review: The Library of the Unwritten by A.J. Hackwith (A Novel from Hell’s Library #1)

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ARC received from the publisher (Ace Books) in exchange for an honest review.

I had such high expectations. A book about books with queer characters and a library of unwritten books sounded wonderful, and there certainly seems to be a trend of meta-books this year (The Ten Thousand Doors of January, anyone?). Unfortunately, while it was not remotely badly written, I just couldn’t connect with it.

Claire lived by the firm moral philosophy that one could never have too many pockets, too many books, or too much tea.

Claire is a librarian in hell, taking care of all the unwritten books. In addition to more mundane library tasks such as repairing books, she must find and retrieve any characters that might escape from them before they harm the author. On one of such rescues, not only does the character escape, but an angel becomes convinced they have the Devil’s Bible…and would stop at nothing to get it back. So Claire and the ragtag bunch of misfits following her – her ex-muse assistant Brevity, a nervous teenage demon named Leto, the escaped Hero, Hell’s arcanist Andras – must get to it first.

First things first: the prose is great. I especially loved the epigraphs at the beginning of each chapter, the little quotes about books and stories. Since this does take place in hell, each characher has a dark past of their own, everyone is a little broken. And my struggle with it baffles the shit out of me because really, it has everything that should have made me adore it. Broken characters, books as a theme, plenty of LGBTQ+ representation, insanely quotable prose – I mean, what else could I ever possibly want?

“Forgiven doesn’t mean a lack of regret. We’ll always regret the wrongs we’ve done. It just means you aren’t punishing yourself for it.”

But the plot just didn’t draw me in. At all. I’d say I’m not much for UF and not much for angels and demons, except I loved Los Nefilim to bits. But it just…meandered. And I couldn’t get attached to any of the characters either. They all felt somewhat distant and something was missing. And this applies to all of it. This is the sort of book that’s the reviewers’ worst nightmare: I should be the one able to say what, exactly, made it not click, but I cannot.

Do I recommend it? Probably. Those of my friends who have read it don’t share my opinion, and I can’t find any large obvious gaping holes.

Note: This book borrows a lot from Christianity, but as a life-long nonreligious person, I don’t know enough to be able to say anything about the representation of the religious aspects, or respectfulness thereof. If that’s an issue, it might not the book for you.

Enjoyment: 3/5
Execution: 4/5

Recommended to: anyone who likes broken protagonists, fans of stories featuring demons and angels, those who like books about books
Not recommended to: religious people are probably not going to be a fan of it, content warning: suicide

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