The Archived by Victoria Schwab
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Release date: January 22 2013
In a word: A twisty tale filled with secrets and lies, a cast of well-drawn characters that you will grow to love, and underneath it all, an honest depiction of a family dealing with grief.
Fear floats up my throat, a primal thing, a physical twinge as I step through, close the door behind me, and hear the voices. Not true voices, really, but murmurs and whispers and words stretched thin by distance. They could be halls, or whole territories, away. Sounds travel here in the Narrows, coil through the corridors, bounce off walls, find you from miles away, ghostlike and diffused. They can lead you astray.
I’ve been trying to find time to read The Archived since January, and my opportunity finally came this month when it was my turn to pick a book for Book Club. It was also a nice change of pace to read something that wasn’t a review book from a publisher, a book that I was simply dying to read without having to worry about reviewing it. And yet here I am, writing a review! The Archived begs to be talked about, because so much happens in this story. I read this on the heels of Schwab’s Vicious, which so far ranks in my top five favorite books of the year, so I expected great things. And I got them, although these two books are vastly different animals and you really can’t compare one to the other.
This complex story is hard to sum up in just a paragraph or two, but I’ll give it a shot. Mackenzie and her mom and dad have just moved into an old apartment complex called the Coronado, in order to make a fresh start after the horrible death of Mackenzie’s younger brother Ben. In addition to being torn away from her best friend Lindsey, she must now adjust to living in the creepy Coronado, a building full of history that also acts as the new territory for her job as a Keeper. Mackenzie is responsible for finding “Histories” who have woken up and returning them to the Archives, a vast library of the dead. Within the Coronado’s walls lies the Narrows, the mysterious place between the Archives and the Outer (our world) where the Histories get stuck until a Keeper can send them back.
But Mackenzie’s job as Keeper is about to become dangerous, because the Histories are starting to wake up at an alarming rate, and it’s all she can do to keep them under control by herself. When she meets a boy named Wesley hanging around the hallways of the Coronado, she’s faced with several mysteries that need untangling, and if she doesn’t figure things out fast, her life will never be the same again.
This book has so much going on that it would be impossible to touch on everything I loved about it, and really, I don’t want to spoil any surprises for you if you haven’t read it yet. Schwab’s writing is truly lovely and evocative. Her descriptions of the world of the Archives and the Narrows made me feel as if I were right there with Mackenzie, making my way through the dark and dusty hallways and anxious about what might be around the next corner. The Archives themselves are shrouded in mystery, and you won’t learn everything about them in this book.
Wesley is one my favorite male characters, and I loved the interactions between him and Mackenzie. Like most of the characters in this story, Wesley isn’t quite what he appears to be, and it was so much fun getting to know his character and finally figuring out who he really is. Plus, guyliner! There was a sort of love triangle, when a boy named Owen is introduced, but it worked for me. Owen has his own fascinating back story, and I loved being surprised by the twists and turns of his character. Mackenzie’s BFF Lindsey is a bright addition to the cast of characters, a girl who keeps the story grounded in the every-day, even when Mackenzie’s life is spinning out of control.
And then there is Mackenzie herself, a brave girl who is struggling with many things: her unusual job as a Keeper, which she must hide from her family; the move to a new house; and especially the grief of losing her ten-year-old brother. The story is told from Mackenzie’s point of view, so we see every nuance of her emotions and each dilemma she faces. On the surface this is a story about the mysteries of the Archives and how Mackenzie interacts with the Histories. But the underlying theme of The Archived is dealing with the loss of a loved one and how grief affects people in different ways. I could feel the pain of each family member as they tried to come to grips with Ben’s death (or ignored it altogether), and I loved the way the author didn’t shy away from the messy emotional moments that come with the death of a child.
The story is interspersed with scenes from the past, as Mackenzie remembers conversations with her Da (grandfather) as he teaches her the ins and outs of becoming a Keeper. Without a doubt this would be a much different story without these passages, as they explain a lot about the world of the Archives without crossing over into the dreaded territory of “info-dumping.”
Some readers might wonder, however, just what is the point of the Archives, when the Histories hidden within aren’t really meant to be seen or read by anyone. I wondered this myself, but I also have faith in the author that perhaps there’s more to learn in the next book of the series, The Unbound, which comes out next January.
As she did in Vicious, Schwab lulls her readers into a false sense of security and then pulls the rug out from under us when we least expect it. The Archived is as twisty as I imagine the Narrows to be: full of dark and winding hallways with doors that open to unknown realms, a place that’s easy to get lost in and hard to get out of. And ultimately, a place that makes you want to keep exploring around every hidden corner.
You can find The Archived here: