title: The Archived
author: Victoria Schwab
buy it: AmazonGoodreads B&N
rating: 5/5 [in the genre] or 8/10 [all books I’ve ever read].
recommended for: Fans of Alice in Wonderland, The Librarian (a cult classic that I adore), Labyrinth (yes, the one with David Bowie), Everneath by Brodi Ashton, ghost stories, or worlds within worlds. It's like John Green wrote urban fantasy. Or the next Neil Gaiman.
My Ratings Explained
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.
the basicsIt took me a few tics to get into The Archived; but by page 30 or so, I was trapped. In the realm of young adult urban fantasy, it offers something unique (dead people, "Histories", shelved like books and the Keepers who hunt the escapees) embedded in something familiar (an old-timey ghost mystery), with a twist of romance that defies the insta-love trend. And is only a twist, because our focus is not on some teenage love drama, but the badassery of Mackenzie. I connected with her immediately and stayed deeply invested in her to the end, even when she was being horrendously stupid. Because she was also clever, resourceful, compassionate to a fault. And empowering. She drove the plot, from choosing to confide in Wesley and the Librarians (band name?) to investigating traces of an old murder to allowing the mysterious Owen a free pass from getting shelved. Her mistakes had huge consequences, but at least they were her mistakes and not something simply happening to her. I was breathless watching the mysteries fit together and unravel, sullen on the last page because I had to have more, and excited because Mac ultimately saves herself.
plot . 5/5The start is enigmatic. I felt thrown into a story midway through, knowing there were details I had yet to find. It made it take a minute to latch onto the plot, but in the end it worked for me. There was no lag time. From the start, I was running through the Narrows with Mackenzie hunting Histories. But the plot goes much deeper than that. There are layers that seem set in the Archive world, layers only in the real world, but more and more the story becomes mixed up between the two. It's a clear demonstration of how impossible it is for Mac to keep her two lives separate, and also a thrilling mystery that gets twistier every page-turn. We have the increasingly violent Histories, Mac's dead brother and her family's grief, the walls that speak of old murders, the mysterious friendly History Owen, the new Keeper Wesley, the enigmatic Librarians. I also appreciated the very unconventional play on a love triangle that's not really a love triangle. As I read, things that seemed unconnected became connected and everything built towards a conclusion that was partly shocking and partly satisfyingly expected. And it left me wanting the sequel right now.
concept . 5/5So there's young adult urban fantasy, and then there's The Archived. No vampire, fairies, demons, or other beasties here. Schwab has concocted a fascinating and entirely new other-world. You can see the inspiration from a mausoleum, but the Archive is much more than that. It's full of people. Histories, like ghosts but not a ghost you've ever encountered before. Keepers who coax and coerce them back to their shelves when they escape into the space between worlds. Crew who hunt down the violent ones who reach the real world. My absolute favorite part was the ability of the Keepers to read. Just by touch, they can absorb the impressions in everything--stories imprinted into objects and walls by the people who once touched them, stories in the heads of living people jumbled and disorienting. Mac's reading ability is not only cool as hell, but it features highly in the plot. It's dangerous and seductive, and it causes just as much trouble as it provides help.
characters . 5/5Schwab has a particularly strong cast of characters, a cut above the usual young adult set. Mackenzie is a little younger than a lot of young adult fantasy heroines, so there's less brooding over bad boys and more being a teenager. Sort of. She's mature to start with and her job, and the untimely death of her little brother, have made her an elder in a kid's body. You can see it in the way that she sees through her mother's "light bulb" cheerfulness and her father's silence, ways they try to hide their grief from her. The way she's attracted to Wesley but keeps her distance, because she knows the cost of getting too close. But she's vulnerable too. She breaks the rules to sit at her brother's shelf, and her lenience towards an unusual History becomes crucial and damaging. But that vulnerability doesn't stop her from fighting back. In the end, she kicks ass all on her own. No insta-love backup needed. And Wesley? If he were older, I'd marry him. He's the perfect blend of snarky and perceptive, a little foolhardy but with a surprising poetic soul. I won't gush too much over the rest of the cast, but even those with less screen time, like Roland and Mac's parents, feel fully developed. Then there's Da. We see him only in memories, and yet I felt like he was one of the strongest portrayals in the book.
style . 5/5There were so many pages I wanted to dog-ear. I'm a broken record when it comes to whining about the quality of writing in young adult fiction, urban fantasy or otherwise. With The Archived, there's nothing to whine about--except maybe that Schwab can't possibly write enough books to satisfy my craving for her prose. It's a bit Gaimanesque. Not as snarkily playful, but there's a magical quality to even the mundane scenes that makes you feel excited. And it can go magical to mournful in an instant, without feeling forced. The emotion is deep, the deeper meanings are there without beating you over the head, and the descriptions are downright gorgeous. I could picture every scene but still let my imagination fill in the blanks. It's a rare gift and Schwab's got it.
mechanics . 5/5The interweaving of memories and the current narrative is an increasing trend in young adult fantasy (Everneath and Everbound do it quite well) and no less effective here. I was able to jump right into the action without the "WTF is going on?" problem. But it does more. Schwab uses the memories with Da to support what's going on in the present, creating important comparisons and clarifications and dropping clues. It makes for a much richer narrative than if she had presented the background all at once. It also factors into The Archived's rather brilliant foreshadowing.
take home messageA masterful urban fantasy that plays with the ideas of life, love, and death in the context of a thrilling plot and endearing characters.
Note: I purchased this copy. The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.