Series: The Archived #1
Author Victoria Schwab
Release Date: January 22, 2013
Page Count: 328
Summary from Goodreads:
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.
Before I started The Archived, I had fairly massive expectations. This is probably the most unique dystopian novel I’ve seen pitched in a while (in my opinion this book isn’t dystopian at all, though). Shelving the ghosts of the dead so their lives can be recorded and remembered is crazy, crazy original, and I seriously applaud Victoria Schwab for thinking that up. But aside from the premise, I hadn’t heard much about this book—characters, pacing, prose. I assumed that, since everyone loved the book, those elements would be well done also. And so, like I said, I started reading expecting a 4 or 5 star read.
And honestly, I was freaking out about this book before I even read the first sentence. The Archived’s epigraph is taken from one of my all-time favorite poems, “Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep” by Mary Elizabeth Frye. There was some spazzing involved when I saw that.
After that, I managed to calm down and read The Archived and I came away from this book highly impressed. Overall, this book definitely met my expectations, though it wasn’t a perfect read for me.
The premise, obviously, is Schwab’s biggest bargaining chip in attracting readers to the book, and it’s also her biggest strength. The entire system—Outer, Narrows, Archive—worked extremely well in context, and if I had any questions or concerns, they weren’t serious enough to detract from my enjoyment of the book. It’s not often anymore that I’m unable to compare one title with another, but The Archived and it’s set-up is far, far outside my normal realm of experience. If anything, though, I would say the Archive portrayed by Schwab was reminiscent of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books featured in The Shadow of the Wind and its sequels. The same gothic, enigmatic presence was featured in the two dusty old libraries filled with unusual volumes.
Schwab’s main character, Mackenzie, was certainly proactive and, in my mind, qualifies as a strong female protagonist. I think her reactions to situations were realistic and her decisions along the road more or less made sense. I didn’t really get a good “feel” for her though, and that was probably my biggest issue with the book: my “mehness” toward the characters. I’d say that I liked Mackenzie and her new-found friend Wesley, but I didn’t find them memorable and they didn’t stand out from other YA characters I’ve come across. But by no means were the personalities portrayed in The Archived bad or underdeveloped or static or any of that. I just didn’t fall in love with them.
This books storyline is more mystery-intensive than anything else, with the fantasy elements playing a nice background harmony. After Mackenzie moves to a new house, she’s responsible for a different “territory” of the Narrows, and for some reason, a lot more Histories are escaping into her territory than she’s used to or is normal. There were also several mysterious murders that took place in Mackenzie’s new home, and they’re tied to whatever’s going wrong in the Archive.
I wasn’t quite expecting that sort of mystery element in The Archived—as I said, I thought this was dystopian fiction, so I figured rebelling against the government would be priority number one. But overall I think Victoria Schwab handled her story well, and I though the reveal of the antagonist was well-done, even if I could have done without the big and dramatic villain monologue that came alongside.
Simply put, The Archived is very good. Better than just “good”, really. It’s rare that I have high expectations for a book anymore, and it’s even rarer that my high expectations are met. I was extremely impressed with the creative thought that obviously went behind crafting this book, and I look forward to the sequel.