Book Review — The Library of the Unwritten by A. J. Hackwith

Back in February of 2020 I had my last trip before [insert all.the.things]. I went to Portland and got to visit one of my favorite bookstores: Powell’s. At that time I had no idea it would be the last time in a while that I’d visit such an awesome bookstore so I didn’t buy too many books (if only I had known….). Still, I got one book purely because of the cover and a couple of key words on the back:

Image of a book on a shelf. Other books of various sizes are in the background. The book cover is in sepia, black, and white colors and has written at the top in black "The Good Place meets Law & Order: Bibliophile Crime Unit. This book is so much fun. -- Seanan McGuire. The image on the cover is of an arm coming out of the left side of a dark opening of ripped pages from what seems to be a book. The words on the ripped pages are in french. The title "The Library of the Unwritten" is in the dark opening where the arm is coming out of in white letters. Underneath the title it says "Join the Library. Raise Hell. Underneath the opening it says "A novel from Hell's Library" and under that "A. J. Hackwith"
“head librarian” “Hell” “hero escapes” “author” were the words that jumped at me from the synopsis of the book.

I don’t normally buy books that I’m not looking for but this book just yelled to be picked up! Hell’s library, what’s in Hell’s library?! Is it evil books? Is it books by evil people? What?! I also don’t normally read synopses because I enjoy going into books not knowing much about the plot but this one claimed that this library housed unwritten works, now that’s intriguing! The main character would be the librarian in charge of these unwritten books and that a hero escapes so they have to get him back. With only a tiny bit of unease at stepping out of my comfort zone I bought the book. That was February 2020.

Jump to July 2020 and I figured it was about time to get back into reading since I was stuck at home with not much else to do… Boy it took me a while to get into the book. I don’t blame the book too much though! Middle of a you-know-what and my mental health wasn’t great so my attention span was lacking. I was reading about 20 pages here and there and then I left it for a couple of months until I finally finished it in January of 2021.

Although this book took a while to read I really truly enjoyed it! The story centers Claire, the head librarian of the Unwritten Library. This library is home to all the unfinished works by people on earth. You know, you write half a story and leave it there? Yeah, that story now lives in that library. All the main characters live in those shelves but sometimes they get out of their pages and become “real.” These characters are then put back into their unfinished books by the librarian. But, in one case, a hero escapes his book and manages to get out of the library altogether. Now Claire and Brevity (a retired muse) have to get him back into his book before he meets his author and havoc ensues.

But of course that’s not all! The other big big issue is that someone somewhere has discovered that the Devil’s Bible, written by Lucifer (you know, king of the underworld, head of all things evil, fallen archangel) is somewhere it shouldn’t be. Books are huge sources of power, demons are always going to the Unwritten library to read and borrow some of that power so it is imperative that this particular book doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. So, heaven is making sure they find the book to put it in the proper place and also demons are now after the book! Well, of course Claire and Beverly get mixed into this mystery of where the book is and …well… you’ll have to read the book to find out!

An aspect of this book I really enjoyed also was that we got to visit multiple other afterlife places: Heaven, Valhalla, a random pagan afterlife, etc. The way that one gets there isn’t easy for these characters since one is supposed to be a human soul (I kept forgetting that they were not entirely human throughout the whole book, also a side effect of stopping after a few pages and picking it up again weeks later I bet). There are many challenges and puzzles that they must solve at each turn so that was really interesting.

I highly recommend this first installment of Hell’s Library because not only is it for all book lovers and aspiring writers, it also includes LGBTQ characters. Multiple characters are sexually diverse and the issues that they face through the book (and in their backstories) are treated really well. I did not know this when I read the book but A. J. Hackwith is a queer fantasy and science fiction writer so it makes so much sense now that she was able to write about the identities of the characters so well.

I would like to continue reading this series and perhaps re-read this book now that my mind is more at ease. What do you think? Have you read this book? Do you have an unwritten book that you’ve yet to finish?

An unwritten book is nothing but pure potential, a soul’s potential is power [in Hell]. Power naturally, is all the creatures of Hell care about. They’d descend on the shelves like a swarm of locusts if we let them

The Library of the Unwritten by A. J. Hackwith

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