The Library at Mount Char
by Scott Hawkins
2015, 390p., Penguin Random House
The last four books I've read were The Prey of Gods, Cryptonomicon, Piranesi, and Trail of Lightning. Prey of Gods and Trail of Lightning were both not only new authors to me, but first time authors. And both had good qualities, but were ... sloppily written. So picking up a book by another new-to-me author that was very well written - articulate, funny (although it's not a comedy), and thoughtfully constructed - was a real pleasure. And even more surprising to find out this was his first novel.
The book starts out with Carolyn. She used to be an American, but at about age ten she was recruited to be a "librarian" - of sorts. The man she calls "Father" who is superhuman (at least), and incredibly harsh. Her "catalogue" is languages, and she's learned all of them. Not just Sanskrit and Swahili, but fantasy languages and the languages of animals. And she has several brothers and sisters, each with their own catalogues, which include: the animals, war, medicine, death, time. You know - stuff like that. But the changes wrought on them by their Father and their catalogues have left them with difficulties communicating with normal humans.
The story is very much about Carolyn's "coming of age" (although she has no clue how old she is because time is weird in the library and she doesn't age ...). There are several normal humans who are part of the cast of characters: they're important in the traditional way (they move the plot forward) but they also show how far Carolyn's experience has moved her away from her own humanity. I felt like the ending took the scale a bit too grand, but the story was more about keeping your soul intact through the worst of circumstances - and since he focussed more on that, it worked quite well. An impressive first book, and I'll look for his next.
As an hilarious afterword, I find in looking Hawkins up on Goodreads that his other author credits include things like the Linux Desk Reference and Apache Web Server Administration & e-Commerce Handbook - which makes me like him even more because that is of course what I do to entertain myself (and for a living, occasionally).