As both Hell and paradise realms cast acquisitive glances towards the Library, Claire and Brevity desperately seek to persuade the other Librarians of their peril. But can they find a way to free the stories from the threat of the afterlives forever – and what will be the cost?
It’s hard for any bookworm to resist AJ Hackwith’s Hell’s Library trilogy, with its cracking concept that even books have afterlives (which are as many and varied as those housing human souls). The God of Lost Words brings the trilogy to a satisfying end, revisiting familiar characters and locations whilst introducing new ideas and threats as it explores the consequences of the first two instalments.
This final volume is another barnstormer from the start, as Echo and the Unsaid Wing seek sanctuary after the heroes of Elysium try to take their stories, and Malphas – effectively the unchallenged ruler of Hell – puts Claire and Brevity on notice. She can sense the Wing has grown in power following the Unwritten ink debacle and she’s keen to get her hands on it.
One of the things I’ve enjoyed about this series is Hackwith’s fine sense of good and evil. Heaven’s gates have always been under strict guard (although the current gatekeeper, delightfully, is less interested in making sure souls are right for Heaven than that Heaven is right for them); Hell can take the form of any place where humans have acted at their worst (Malphas’s court is the horror of an ICE facility); Claire is damned in part because she believes she deserves to be. Accordingly, The God of Lost Words is in many ways as much about the redemption Claire believes she needs to earn – and the debt she feels she owes the Unwritten Wing – as it is about the Library’s misfits teaming up to evade Hell’s grasp. To do so, she must retrace the steps of a long-ago Librarian on a seemingly impossible quest or lose everything she cares for. Or possibly both.
If the stakes are as high as ever, the emotional stakes are right alongside them as romantic themes come to the fore. Where the first book forged unexpected connections and the second pushed Hero into admitting his feelings, this final volume is very much about the bonds that tie Claire, Brevity, Hero and Ramiel. From antagonists to close found family and in some cases lovers, they have learned to appreciate one anothers’ strengths, support one anothers’ weaknesses and above all trust each others’ judgement …mostly, anyway.
Consequently, The God of Lost Words delivers some enormous emotional moments as each character faces an existential crisis. My heart hasn’t quite recovered from Rami’s temptation in the crocodile god’s afterlife (let alone Hero’s response to it), or the pivotal chapter that puts Hero’s trust in Claire to the test. But perhaps the most rewarding belong to Brevity – such a source of inspiration of others, so quick to doubt herself – facing her fears in Hell’s underbelly and realising her true power as the Librarian of the Unwritten Wing.
For all its dark moments (and I haven’t even mentioned the Unwon Wing, which left me in bits), this series has a warm heart that has comforted me even in 2022. Hero’s antics continue to amuse; Brevity is a ray of light; Rami a staunch comfort. There are strong opinions about good tea. The damsels, as ever, steal the show – hell, turns out they have an arsenal – although obstreperous Bird gives them a run for their money. I heartily recommend Hell’s Library for sheer entertainment value, from its many afterlives and their bookish adjuncts to AJ Hackwith’s knack for observing the truths that lie close to a bookworm’s heart – and for letting us imagine a god of libraries.
Enjoyed the review? Check out author AJ Hackwith’s entry to my Six Degrees of Separation challenge!
THE GOD OF LOST WORDS is out now in ebook and paperback from Titan Books.
I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.