“Carolyn, blood-drenched and barefoot, walked alone down the two-lane stretch of blacktop that the Americans called Highway 78.“
As the blurb tells us, Carolyn is not so different from other humans – and indeed, she used to be a normal American kid, 25 years and once upon a time ago. Because time moves differently in the library, and after she and a dozen other children were ‘adopted’ by the… man?… they know as Father, she’s had time enough to learn every language. *Every* language: the human ones, animal ones, the mythological ones, and more.
Carolyn and her ‘siblings’ are librarians, but not in the way you or I would think. Each has a catalogue of study, and is forbidden to stray into the others. The punishments for disobeying are beyond harsh. Content warnings through the roof that there are some incredibly nasty tortures here, and often aimed at the kids, albeit in flashback. Father may not be human, and he will be obeyed.
Ooh, where to start with a review of this? I think I actually got a recommendation for it years back, but thanks to a rerelease I got to snag a copy on NetGalley – and I’m really glad I did! It was a completely engrossing read, dark and weird and wonderful. I like to think I read a lot – maybe not as much as some, but plenty – and yet this one caught me: I had no idea where we were going through most of it.
Which isn’t to say there isn’t a great plot, but that for once it didn’t seem to follow any kind of familiar path. There are twists a-plenty, and so, so much to learn about the library, and the creature(s) that run it.
I’ve labelled it as fantasy, and horror, but a lot of the action takes place in the real world. Steve is a fairly regular guy who gets caught up with ‘this chick’ who doesn’t quite know how car doors work, or how to dress normally. She’s the quiet, sane-ish one in the family, though, given her siblings can talk to animals, survive death, or happen to be the absolute ultimate killing machine. Steve is out of his depth before he can blink, but neither he nor the reader could hope to guess what Carolyn has in store for him.
I absolutely recommend this, but I do understand it’s not going to be for everyone. It’s weird. It’s got not just big but HUGE ideas, and it’s impressive that they’re handled as well as they are. It’s a lot, though, particularly the blood-drenched bits, which are significant and not pleasant. They aren’t really glorified, though: mentioned, and just enough detail to give you the heebie jeebies about how dark the author’s imagination is!
Overall, though, I was gripped. Seriously impressed with how this kept me guessing, and utterly, utterly intrigued throughout.
NetGalley eARC: 400 pages / 14 chapters
First published: 2015
Read from 30th March – 2nd April 2022
My rating: 9/10