Read: February 11-13, 2013
Published: January 22, 2013 by Hyperion
Category: Alternative Reality, Paranormal YA
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. (From Goodreads)
I fell in love with Victoria Schwab's writing in The Near Witch, which I called "a beautiful, lyrical, creepy, fairytale," and I was excited to see what she had planned for us in The Archived. I knew the writing would be gorgeous, and of course I was not disappointed. Plus as soon as I read the description - "Imagine a place where the dead rest on shelves like books" - I was completely sold on the concept.
In the world that Victoria Schwab has created in The Archived, every moment of a person's life is recorded and then placed into a library called the Archive once the person dies. The information is not kept in book form, but as a History or a physical copy of each person. This vast library of the dead is organized and maintained by Librarians, who live and work in the Archive full time. Occasionally a History will wake up and escape his/her shelf, and if they aren't caught and returned quickly, the results are usually disastrous. It is the job of a Keeper to make sure that Histories do not get into the Outer, or the regular world. The Narrows is the corridor between the Archive and the Outer, and that is where Keepers spend their time patrolling and returning escaped Histories to the Archive. Keepers live in the Outer world, but access the Narrows and Archive when a History needs to be returned.
Mackenzie (Mac) is a Keeper, a job she inherited from her grandfather Da. At 16 she is one of the youngest, which is impressive except that she cannot tell anyone in her regular life about her job (including her parents and friends). As much as she loves what she does, she feels lonely and isolated. When The Archived begins, Mac has just moved with her mom and dad to the Coronado, an old hotel turned apartment building. Mac's brother Ben died a year ago and her mother is sure that a new home will give her family a fresh start and help them begin to heal from the loss of Ben. Mac does not agree, and despite their efforts, her parents aren't coping well either. The new home also means a new Keeper territory for Mac, which is busier than her last region. Along with more work it brings the added stress of constantly lying to her parents about where she is.
Although Mac understands that Histories are not really the people who we have loved, it doesn't stop her from wishing that she could see her brother Ben again. She visits the shelf where his History is kept as often as she can convince one of the Archive Librarians to take her there. As much as they warn her that it isn't healthy - and that Ben isn't really there, she secretly wishes that he'll wake up so that she can see him one more time. Although the Librarians are not part of Mac's life in the Outer, in many ways she is closer to them than any one else. Especially red chuck wearing, smutty magazine reading, Roland, who has a protective/mentoring relationship with Mac. Although she only sees him in the library, Roland has a bigger influence over Mac than her parents do, partly because they have no idea of her role as Keeper. Roland is one of my favorite characters in this book. I'd love to know more about his background.
Two things of note happen when Mac moves into the Coronado. The first is that she meets a boy named Wesley Ayers who wears eyeliner, black nail polish and spiked hair, and whom she can't help but find intriguing. Despite his goth looks, Wes is vibrant and alive. But being a Keeper fills her with secrets and lies and makes it difficult for her to get close to anyone. It is also clear that Wes has his own family issues and secrets, which further complicates a connection. The second thing that happens is that Mac learns about a crime that took place in her building long ago, and she becomes desperate to solve it. What happened? And why can no one tell her anything about it?
During her investigation, Mac explores the Coronado, which is an absolutely fantastic setting for a book. I wish I lived there. It is an enormous, crumbling old hotel filled with gardens, libraries, gargoyles, grand staircases and rickety elevators. Schwab truly brought the location to life. Besides Wes, Mac meets several other Coronado residents, including Ms. Angelli, an antiques collector who knows more than she's saying, and Mr. Nix, the only person in the building that was alive at the time of the crime. Then there's Owen, a guy that Mac first encounters when he rescues her from a dangerous situation, but whom clearly has his own story to tell. There's something different about him that Mac can't quite place, but it draws her to him.
Although the pacing of The Archived was slow at first, the story really picked up after the first 100 pages when there was a revelation that surprised and excited me. However, my biggest trouble with this story centered around Mac. Even though conceptually I could understand her grief and loneliness and why it led her to take the actions that she did, I had a lot of trouble connecting with her emotionally. As a result, I found myself increasingly frustrated with her decisions. I was happy with the place she got to at the end of the book, but I will admit to having trouble getting over some of the things that she did throughout. I also felt like Mac took some big leaps in logic in her initial investigation of the Coronado crime, skipping natural early steps in how she got to some of her conclusions. Although they were mostly right, I didn't really understand how her mind got there so quickly.
The Archived almost feels like it could be set in any time in recent history. Except for a passing mention about Mac's dead cell phone, there is really not much modern technology that is discussed. That along with the historical hotel, and the ageless Archives gives the book a timeless quality. Also, the entire story takes place in the Coronado or in the Narrows and Archives, further isolating the story from the modern world. Though the timeless feeling of the book worked well with the mood and setting of the story, I would like to see Mac out in the world more in the second one. It is summer vacation now, but how will she manage school (and Wesley) along with her role as Keeper? I'm very curious about both those questions.
The Archived is a beautifully written story from Victoria Schwab, both in its lyrical prose and its unique and fascinating concept of a library for the dead. Although I will admit to having some problems with the heroine's decisions, I am really happy about her growth by the end of the book and I look forward to where this story takes us next.
Love Triangle Factor: An uncomfortable Mild
Cliffhanger Scale: LOW - The book resolves itself well, but there is definitely room for more story. This is the first book in a series, and I'm looking forward to the next part of the story.