January 22, 2013
Source: Southern Book Bloggers ARC Tours
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 Summary.)
** This is an ARC review. Any quotes or excerpts included are subject to change before the final print**
The Narrows remind me of August nights in the South.
My Take On It
So the word of the day is ORIGINAL when it comes to describing The Archived by Victoria Schwab. The concept of storing the departed and all the memories and experiences they formed while living in a library of sorts, tended to by librarians of sorts is what first attracted me to this book. I imagine it is what attracted MOST people to this book, because hey, we are all readers here, and who doesn't love a library? And as far as I know, this is a wholly original idea. I could be wrong, but I have never come across anything like this before in my reading. And this unique idea, as well as the atmospheric writing of Victoria Schwab, is what makes this book stand out.
Schwab has created an intricate world, and thankfully, does a great job of explaining and detailing this world as the story progresses. In a nutshell, Mackenzie (Mac), our protagonist, has inherited a secret legacy from her grandfather (Da) who passed on some years earlier. More about Da in a moment. Da was a Keeper, a human trained to keep Histories from escaping back into the real world. What is a History? A History is a record of a person. Not a ghost, or even a soul, but a personified record of every experience and memory a person can hold.
When Mac was a young girl it became clear that she had inherited her grandfather's abilities. Shortly thereafter he began to secretly train her for her future role as a Keeper, explaining to her the shadowy world of the Archive and the Narrows. Here the world is divided into three areas:
The Outer, the normal world, and the only one most people know about.
The Narrows, a nightmarish place, all stained corridors and distant whispers, doors and darkness thick like grime, a buffer between the Outer and the Archive.
And the Archive, a library of the dead. Vast and warm, wood and stone and colored glass, and all throughout a sense of peace.
Sometimes a History breaks free of the Archive, and escapes into The Narrows. Confused and disoriented, they wander the corridors, not knowing that they are no longer living, and it is the Keeper's job to send them back, Return them to the Archive. As a Keeper, Mac has been trained to Return Histories before they can escape into the Outer (and wreak all kinds of havoc.) Sometimes returning a History is easy. A little manipulation and soothing words is all that is required. But the older the History is (the age the person was when they died), and the longer they have been wandering the Narrows, the more volatile and dangerous they are. The only way to Return those type of Histories is with force, so Mac is kind of a bad ass fighter as well.
I loved everything about this imaginary world. Much of Mac's time is spent in the shadowy maze of The Narrows listening and hunting down Histories. I love how that place is described: dark hallways with endless doors lining them, doors that open into the Outer world and doors that are used to Return Histories to The Archive. I love the way she is given her "assignments", her orders to find an escaped History, orders that show up as a name and age that appear on a piece of paper Mac always keeps in her pocket. I love that all Keepers wear rings, rings that keep all the "noise" of the living, their emotions, their memories, from overpowering the Keepers' senses. And I love that Keepers are assigned keys that unlock doors between the worlds.
I also love the views we get into the Archive, which is definitely like a library, with librarians around cataloguing the dead, making sure that people stay out of the restricted sections and such. And it also reminds me of a church sanctuary, with it's stained glass and silence. But there is definitely a creepy factor as well. Histories are kept like books on shelves, but they can also be "pulled out" like "drawers", which reminds me of pulling out bodies in a morgue.
And as cool as I found Mac's job as a Keeper to be, I also found myself feeling sorry for these escaped Histories who have no idea that they are dead and only want to find a way home. Mac often has to lie to them to keep them calm as she searches for a Return door. She has been trained to be unsympathetic to them, to do her duty as a Keeper and move on. But the lies and manipulations clearly wear on Mac and bother her as much as they bothered me.
Now that this world has been explained let's go back to the story. Because The Archived not only features a mystery but it is also a story about grief and mourning. Not only did Mac lose her Da, her younger brother Ben was killed in an accident not long ago, and Mac and her parents aren't handling the loss every well. Mac in particular is having difficulty coping. Because she cannot tell anyone about her other life as a Keeper, no one understands how hard it is for her to work so closely with the dead and it is not helping her come to terms with her brother's untimely death. Mac constantly tries to gain access to Ben's shelved History, always hoping to have one more look at his "sleeping" form. This part of the story is very sad, and it's the part that really fleshes out Mac's character in my opinion.
So let's move on to characters. Mac is a great protagonist, if not a little remote. She distances herself from everyone in her life. In fact, because of her extra sensory abilities she has a very difficult time having any sort of physical contact with the living. The "noise" they make is so overpowering it physically disables her. But because of her grief over the loss of her brother, and her fond flashbacks to her time spent training and learning with her Da, who she also misses terribly, the reader is allowed insight into Mac.
Mac is the star of the show but there are other characters that I really loved. The one that resonated with me most was Roland, a librarian and "father figure" to Mac. Roland, and all the librarians, are a very mysterious lot. Their exact roles are revealed gradually throughout the story. I love Roland because even though he can be a bit formal and stiff, it is clear that he cares very much for Mac, and he stands by her throughout the book.
I also loved Wesley, the boy that Mac meets when her family moves to the Coronado, a hotel converted into an apartment building. Wesley harbors a few secrets, but he is the perfect match for Mac. Mac, always serious and somber can't help but gravitate towards the lighter and more playful Wes. Plus he is described as punk in appearance, with spiky hair and GUYLINER. Gosh, I love those boys that wear guyliner:)
So yes, there is a spark between Mac and Wes romantically speaking but that angle is very subtle and not heavily focused on. I think we'll see more as the series progresses.
There is another boy in The Archive who is the most mysterious character of all. His name is Owen and I honestly can say NOTHING more because it will be too spoilery. I liked his character a whole lot though, and loved trying to figure him out.
Mac's parents are not totally discounted. But Schwab keeps them out of the main action of the story. They are unaware of Mac's secret life for one thing and they are each caught up in their own grief over losing Ben. It was interesting to see how each family member handles his death. Mac's mom throws herself into new hobbies and goals and her father retreats inside himself and checks out. It felt realistic to me in some ways, because it's true that everyone handles grief differently. It also broke me a little because no one was working together as a family to get through the loss, each was separate in their grief, isolated. And this isolation is most evident in Mac who has so many secrets she must keep.
As noted earlier, there is a mystery storyline written to The Archived. And it is one of those plot lines that is more than it appears, playing a larger role than I expected. The mystery is solved, in part, but seems to ask more questions than it answers, questions that I am sure will be addressed in later installments of the series.
Lastly, I have to talk about Victoria Schwab's beautiful writing. I have not read her debut, The Near Witch, so I cannot compare the two, but if you read this blog then you know that I am a total sucker for pretty, descriptive writing. And Ms. Schwab's skills grabbed me right from the start. Some examples:
The storm drags it's stomach over the city, swelling to fill the spaces between buildings.
and here, when Mac remembers her Da and her coming into her abilities:
Next summer it will be different, and I will hear the hum and I will reach inside and I will see something, and you will be proud and sad and tired at the same time and the summer after that you will get me a ring just like yours, but newer, and the summer after that you'll be dead and I'll have your key as well as your secrets.
I know that I will definitely be checking out The Near Witch very soon because Victoria Schwab has an uncanny way with words.
Overall, I really enjoyed The Archived. I feel like there is so much more to learn about, both with the world of the Archive and with the characters themselves. I am hoping to learn more about Mac, outside of the grief that defines her. I think she is just one of many complex characters that Schwab has only scratched the surface of and I'm very curious to see where this story goes next.
Find Victoria Schwab here: website/ goodreads/ twitter
Read more reviews of The Archived:
A Reader of Fictions
Once Upon a Prologue
The Hollow Cupboards