The Library of the Unwritten, by A.J. Hackwith

After reading A.J. Hackwith’s utterly enjoyable novel The Library of the Unwritten, I want to revise my afterlife plans. Previously, I wanted to find myself in a pleasant room, with mountains of books, always hot cups of tea, and a couple of cats. I would have eternity to finish my never-ending to-read list. In Hackwith’s version of the afterlife, not only are there more options than heaven and hell (Valhalla makes a fantastic appearance), but there is also a library that holds all of the world’s unwritten literature. And there is a librarian who takes care of these books, rousts demon readers, and makes sure that characters stay in their stories. Reading forever would be a dream, but I would want to get up and stretch my legs every now and then.

Claire Hardy has been the librarian of the Unwritten Library for about thirty years. (Not that time really matters in the afterlife.) For the most part, her work is routine. She repairs books, maintains order in the Library, and occasionally interworld loans books back and forth from the other afterlifes (afterlives?). The most excitement she gets is tracking down characters who’ve escaped from their books to go find and bother their authors. But on her latest trip topside, at the beginning of The Library of the Unwritten, Claire, her ex-muse assistant, and a demonic messenger are confronted by an angel, who has also been dispatched to earth to find something very dangerous. The Devil’s Bible has resurfaced after centuries. Whoever has it would hold enough power to remake the entire afterlife. Lifes.

Claire’s trip to earth and her distinctly un-heavenly encounter with an angel is just the first battle between heaven and hell over the Devil’s Bible. This bible is a bit of a MacGuffin. I didn’t mind, really, because there is just so much going on in this book. The characters are the real magic in this story. I thought, at the beginning, that this book would be a mostly-silly romp through the afterlife. But the characters end up stealing the show from each other as they confront their pasts, try to become real heroes, and wrestle with their sworn obligations. Sure this book has its silly moments (many Viking-related), but there are parts that really tug the heartstrings.

I inhaled this book. There are places where characters over-explain, but then one of them is a librarian. We have a hard time not over-explaining. Aside from this quibble, I adored everything Hackwith did in this book. I loved the characters, especially Claire and Hero (a fugitive character who was rejected by his book after his escape). And I loved the way the different afterlives have treaties and reciprocal borrowing agreements. I would strongly recommend this adventurous, often funny journey to stop the afterlives from dying themselves, especially if you’re a fan of Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series or Jonathan Howard’s Johannes Cabal series.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.

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