Series: The Archived #1
Published by Disney Hyperion on January 7th, 2014
Genres: Young Adult, Urban Fantasy
Imagine a place where the dead rest on shelves like books.
Each body has a story to tell, a life seen in pictures only Librarians can read. The dead are called Histories, and the vast realm in which they rest is the Archive.
Da first brought Mackenzie Bishop here four years ago, when she was twelve years old, frightened but determined to prove herself. Now Da is dead, and Mac has grown into what he once was: a ruthless Keeper, tasked with stopping often violent Histories from waking up and getting out. Because of her job, she lies to the people she loves, and she knows fear for what it is: a useful tool for staying alive.
Being a Keeper isn't just dangerous—it's a constant reminder of those Mac has lost, Da's death was hard enough, but now that her little brother is gone too, Mac starts to wonder about the boundary between living and dying, sleeping and waking. In the Archive, the dead must never be disturbed. And yet, someone is deliberately altering Histories, erasing essential chapters. Unless Mac can piece together what remains, the Archive itself may crumble and fall.
In this haunting, richly imagined novel, Victoria Schwab reveals the thin lines between past and present, love and pain, trust and deceit, unbearable loss and hard-won redemption.
Though published prior to her bestselling Darker Shade of Magic series, I picked up The Archived a lot later. It stands in the shadow of Schwab’s more popular releases, and though it is far less hyped, The Archived has no reason to hide. The Archived is – as are all of Schwab’s novels – an imaginative, surprisingly moving urban fantasy which builds on the concept of the dead, their histories, and their memories being shelved in an archive. Schwab has quickly become one of my auto-buy authors. And save for This Savage Song, which was a little out of her familiar comfort zone, her works have never failed to impress me.
I sensed that Mackenzie Bishop was going to make a relatable heroine from the very first page. There is something to the life Schwab has given this character which I cannot quite name. Mackenzie grew on me instantly with her slightly rebellious nature, her secrecy, and the weight of her responsibilites and loss on her shoulders. Perhaps I read this story at an opportune moment, but I was completely open to Mackenzie’s grief over her deceased sibling, only to be left raw by it. I almost had to put the book down because it felt so real. The flashbacks written in 2nd person POV gave her character the depth and background I want in a main character. It became apparent that her relationship with her grandfather was something precious and pure, and even though I am not a fan of 2nd person POV, it really worked its magic in the flashbacks. Alienated from reality by her destiny – to become a Keeper of the Archive and hunt down escaped Histories (the dead) – Mackenzie wraps an intense loneliness around her. Until she meets Wesley Ayers, that is. What a dreamboat. Mysterious Wesley steps into Mackenzie’s world and turns it upside down. There is no immediate romantic connection, as insta is not how Schwab likes her coffee brewed, but a steady development instead. The romantic subplot is kept subtle at all times, never overpowering the main plot, which is a specialty of Schwab’s books. Wesley had the necessary amount of self-confidence, cockiness, and snark for a male lead. I do think that his character could’ve been more explored, because it felt as though Schwab had only just begun to scrape at his surface. For example, there were only hints at his familial background, and I wanted to see more.
To be honest, it took me a while to get sucked into the story, which is unusual for me. For the first quarter, it was easy to put The Archived aside. The main plot started to captivate me as soon as something went awry at the Archive. When I smell conspiracies, I’m all in. There is a steady increase of tension as Mackenzie looks for answers. Though the pacing is on the slow side, the need to get those answers kept me hooked. As for the romance, I think it was integrated well into the main plot. I must confess that this is the closest I’ve ever seen Schwab come to a love triangle but even that aspect fits well into the story.
There’s a reason Schwab has made it onto my auto-buy list, and one of them is her world-building, which has never disappointed me. Compared to other authors which stomp cardboard worlds with no substance out of thin air, it is palpable how much thought and effort Schwab pours into her worlds. Her world-building – a library for the dead, a place surrounded by the Narrows like a city by suburbs, connected to the outside world through mysterious doors – is nothing short of creative and unique. Though not necessarily more complex, it took me longer to grasp the concept of this world than, for example, that of A Darker Shade of Magic. For some reason, I experience more difficulties with urban fantasy because the lines between fantasy and reality blur, and it was no different with The Archived. Perhaps it didn’t have that much to do with how Schwab created her world, but more with the genre itself.
Schwab’s writing is outstanding in its balance between concise wording and elegant prose. She wields her words like a painter would a brush, and it’s simply the most delicate, elegant written art to behold. Schwab has continuously managed to write beautifully without falling into the trap of purple prose, which is makes her a mastermind of literature, if you ask me. Don’t mind me, I’ll just keep gushing while you move on to the conclusion of this review.
As with Schwab’s other works, her recipe for The Archived was to create relatable characters, unique world-building, and a subtle romance, underpinned by her most beautiful and skilled writing. Even against her more popular books like Vicious or A Darker Shade of Magic, The Archived can certainly hold its on, and if you’ve neglected picking this one up, like I have, then I’d say this book’s more than deserving of a chance to woo you.