A story can move you to anger, to cry, to empathize with people you do not know or who are imaginary. A story can inspire you to write your own story. But what happens to those stories that never get told, that never make it to the file on your computer, the page of a book, or ever leave the inner workings of your mind? Well, in The Library of the Unwritten by A.J. Hackwith, they end up in the Unwritten Wing of Hell’s library. This library, containing the unfinished work of authors, remains neutral from the rest of Hell, but the books can become restless, and when they do, their characters try to escape. It takes a head librarian like Claire to keep them in line. Everything goes awry when a hero escapes his book to the real world to meet his author and Claire, her former muse-turned-assistant Brevity, and the young demon Leto must go after the restless character they name Hero.
Stories about the power of stories can be hit or miss. They tend to slip too easily into cliches of their own making instead of treading new ground. However, this book, which deals with the manifestations of characters from unwritten books, tackles those cliches head on creating a meta-narrative within the plot. The way the novel plays with the tropes and cliches of storytelling is entertaining rather than eye-rolling inducing.
The plot is predictable, but that brings up another point. A predictable plot doesn’t automatically make it a poor one. Foreshadowing is a concept for a reason. Let’s be real, a predictable twist that serves the story is better than an unexpected one that merely for the sake of shock. As head librarian, Claire and her crew must recover an artifact from Hell known as the Devil’s Bible, a book lost to the ages said to be written by the fallen angel himself. Thanks to her experience in the Unwritten Wing of the Hell’s library, Claire realizes the potential power of this book and must bring it back to the library before Lucifer himself realizes it’s gone and the angels of Heaven get their hands on it and cause a war that would destroy the human world.
The way Heaven, Hell, and other realms play into the story is reminiscent of Jonathan L. Howard’s Johannes Cabal novels or Richard Cadrey’s Sandman Slim series. Claire, like Johannes, has a no-nonsense approach to her work as well as dry wit, though being a librarian from Hell is much different from being a necromancer. The concept of the unwritten works is part of what makes it unique. It’s more than a gimmick in order to set-up the real plot of the Devil’s Bible, but a major plot point throughout. On top of that, there are so many little moments where this concept is used to what will be an utter joy to the reader such as how the novel addresses the damsel-in-distress archetype.
The main character isn’t always the reader’s favorite character. Therefore, we want to see more than just the main protagonist grows and change within the story. Part of what makes The Library of the Unwritten a fantastic read is the majority of the characters get a satisfying arc. Claire, Brevity, Leto, Ramiel, and Hero all are left changed from the beginning of the tale. It’ll make you believe reading this novel was worth your time and excited for what the future may hold for these characters. The Library of the Unwritten doesn’t reinvent the wheel but crafts an entertaining tale with an interesting take on the power of storytelling.