HomeAll postsThe Library of the Unwritten by A J Hackwith

The Library of the Unwritten by A J Hackwith

A review by Nalini Haynes

Claire is a librarian but it’s a library with a difference. It’s a library of the unwritten books, and it’s located in Hell.

Occasionally a book comes to life in the form of one of its characters. Often it’s a hero, seeking out its author in an attempt to inspire the book to actually be written, so it can graduate to a different library in a different otherworldly dimension.

However, damsels in distress are even more likely to be dissatisfied with their lot than heroes. These people – not necessarily women, just damsel-trope characters – definitely don’t want to return to their pages. If the author is dead, the librarians tend to allow the “damsels” to remain in the real world. They evolve!

This time it’s a hero who came to life and escaped. He pursues his author, trying to inspire her to write. Claire and her assistants set off in hot pursuit. Also, he names himself Hero.


The Library of the Unwritten explores a wealth of tropes, poking fun and passing comment on many. Although this novel is escapist fun, with an emphasis on fun (alongside “serious” threats), I wouldn’t actually call it a comedy. However, Hackwith’s treatment of tropes is comedic.


Damsels in distress – whatever their gender or species – are, effectively, minorities in the author’s mind. In the Library of the Unwritten, these damsels find refuge and grow. However, they remain prisoners of the library, subject to the librarian’s whims and are not equals. They’re not even given jobs as assistants! The Muse, Brevity, wants to change things but Claire is recalcitrant, with a backstory as motivation.

It could be argued that Leto, Claire’s new assistant is disabled due to his memory loss. I disagree, though. For reasons I won’t discuss because spoilers.

The verdict

I thoroughly enjoyed The Library of the Unwritten. Factionalism, politics and completely unrealistic stakes made this novel excellent escapist fun. There is already a sequel, Archive of the Forgotten, which I will devour when I get hold of it.

There was a missed opportunity regarding Hero’s interactions with his author. It’s probably too late to recon that but perhaps Hackwith will engage with that possibility in any sequels or spinoffs. It’d be fun for readers and would be RELISHED by writers who read that story.

For once I prefer the US cover for a book, so I’ve included the US and Australian covers below.

Read Library of the Unwritten if you enjoyed Happy Hour In Hell.

Book details

ISBN: 9781789093179 (Aus), 9781984806376 (US I think)
Imprint: Titan Publishing Group with New South Publishing as their Australian distributor; Penguin Random House.
Released: 2020 but it took a while to get to Oz
Format: I read the paperback, 443 pages
Category: fantasy

Library of the Unwritten: flames surround the title and a person at the bottom of the pageLibrary of the Unwritten: torn printed pages reveal an arm reaching out from blackness


Nalini is an award-winning writer and artist as well as managing editor of Dark Matter Zine.


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