Author: Victoria Schwab
Published: January 22, 2013
Series: The Archived #1
Genre: Young Adult Paranormal
Rating: 3 stars
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“Because the only way to truly record a person is not in words, not in still frames, but in bone and skin and memory.”My Thoughts
― Victoria Schwab, The Archived
Imagine a place where the dead rest on shelves like books.
Each body has a story to tell, a life seen in pictures that 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 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 might 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. (Goodreads)
With such a wildly imaginative premise, I began The Archived with high expectations. Although I own The Near Witch, I have yet to read it so this is my first Victoria Schwab book. While the story was original, I found it sorely lacking in background story.
In The Archived, the Archive is essentially a library of the dead. These archived Histories are no longer the individuals they were when alive. They are merely records of their lives; all of their memories are filed away for a librarian to read like a book. To get to the Archives, you must pass through the Narrows, a labyrinth of creepy stone hallways that serves as a passageway between the Outer (reality) and the Archive. Mackenzie has inherited the position of Keeper from her Da. Her job is to return escaped Histories to the Archive before they slip into insanity and find a way into the Outer where they will spread chaos and destruction.
The Archived was like nothing I've ever read before. I love libraries, and I found the Archive to be the scariest, most intriguing library I could ever imagine into existence. I loved how it spread out into multiple wings leading to numerous rooms that branched off dozens of hallways. Mac had to be careful of not straying too far off the beaten path or she could get terribly lost. I also enjoyed the multiple keys given out to different professions, as a Keeper had an entirely different key than a Librarian and each key had different uses. Then there were magical doors appearing out of thin air and violent Histories lurking around each corner. Mac had the strangest abilities like reading the memories of floors, walls and items. I have to congratulate Schwab on her creativity. I was enchanted by all of the above, and I wish I could read memories just like one does a book. It would be a frightening but awesome ability.
At first, I did have trouble becoming deeply immersed in The Archived. I was curious about the Archive and the process of hunting down and returning Histories, but I thought the book started off incredibly slow. There were so many flashbacks and descriptions of this other world. Instead of helping to build a richer picture of the Archive, all of Schwab's details only made the story drag and confused me all the more. I had so many unanswered questions that left me feeling more frustrated than compelled to read on. Like why do we even need an Archive? What is the rationalization behind this system? And where do these bodies come from that are stored in the Archives? The process of how a History enters the system after death was never mentioned. Are these actual corpses or something entirely different? I understood that they could never be the same person, even when awake, but if they're flesh and blood, was there graveyard robbing involved? And what exactly do Librarians do? Why do they read Histories? I needed more explanations because I was really lost. Plus, I wasn't entirely sure who Da was in the beginning. I automatically assumed it was Mac's father, but it turns out he's her grandfather. Then there was just way too much going on with Da's death, Ben's death, and Mac's family's moving to a new home. I understand that each served a purpose in the plot, but it was a lot to digest from the start.
I am happy to say that the pace did pick up. When Mac discovers that Histories have been altered, the book was suddenly action-packed and I could not stop turning the pages. I love a good mystery and The Archived did offer a big helping of suspense, intrigue, and investigative research Nancy Drew style. As the tension steadily built up, I was waiting for a mind-blowing, intense resolution, but I was underwhelmed. The conclusion was sloppily and hastily written, leaving me very unsatisfied. I thought it took a predictable route and it should have played out differently. With such a creative unfolding of secrets and clues, I was hoping for a more inventive plot twist. Alas, it was not to be so.
As for the characters in The Archived, I didn't find myself feeling much for them. Mac did kick some History butt, and I sympathized with her loss, but, more often than not, she frustrated me. I had thought she was a independent, resourceful, and intelligent girl, but then she proves me wrong by falling for some of the oldest tricks in the book and displaying her naivete. She immediately falls for the first guy that makes her feel nothing (which is obviously not healthy) and trusts him when her Da explicitly warned her not to. In regards to the romance, there are two guys, but I would not call this a love triangle. Far from it. You'll understand if and when you read it.
I also found Mac's parents infuriating. They are either blind to their daughter's behavior or just prefer to live in blissful ignorance. But, seriously, how can you miss all of your daughter's bruises and erratic behavior? I know you just lost one child, but that doesn't excuse your bad parenting.
I just realized that I had way more complaints to unload about The Archived than I thought I did. The premise was genius, but its delivery left something to be desired. I realized this book is part of a series though it could be a standalone in my opinion. I hope the next book answers some more of my questions, shows a smarter, more capable Mac, and has a smoother finish. It remains to be seen if I will continue this series, but I'm thinking yes.