‘The Archived’ is one of the most exciting YA fantasies I have read in a very long time. In this world, the dead – called Histories – are kept like books on a shelf in the Archive (a library of the dead, if you will). Our protagonist, Mackenzie Bishop, is a Keeper – if one of the slumbering Histories wakes up and escapes into the Narrows (the buffer between the Archive and our world) Kenzie needs to get in there and control the situation, sending them back to the Archive through the Returns door. Kenzie has just moved to the Coronado, an apartment block made from a converted hotel, with her parents, following the death of her younger brother, Ben. Kenzie continues patrolling as usual, because the move hasn’t taken her out of her territory in the Narrows, but when the volume of Histories needing to be recaptured rises out of control, Kenzie knows that something is going terribly wrong with the Archive. She just needs to find out what, and why.
I thought I would find this novel quite difficult to get into, because there was a lot going on right at the start. Getting my head around the difference between the Outer, the Narrows and the Archive wasn’t difficult, but working out what exactly the jobs of Keeper, Crew and Librarian entailed took a bit more thought. Some of the lines weren’t well defined, so it was definitely a ‘learn as you go’ kind of deal – while that wasn’t a problem, it did mean that the first half of the novel was slow and kind of clunky, taking away from my overall love of the book.
However, once I settled into the world of the story I really did enjoy it. I haven’t read any of Victoria Schwab (or V. E. Schwab’s) other novels, but her writing style grabbed me and had me flying through this novel. The characters were all brilliant: Kenzie had such physical strength but such emotional weakness, and seeing that juxtaposition play out was so realistic, and something that I hadn’t seen explored as well as this in any other YA novels. Her job as a Keeper was both terrifying and intriguing – as she could reach into objects to read their histories, we got to learn more about the world around her than we ever would have at a base level. It really made me think – how much more would we appreciate the world, and the other people around us, if we could find out everything that happened to one of them?
But as well as Kenzie, I found the other characters appealing as well. Wesley is one of Kenzie’s neighbours, but he has so much more to him than we get in our first impressions, and from the amount that we discover in the first novel I can tell that there’s going to be a lot more we learn in the second novel too. The same can be said about the Librarians that Kenzie interacts with in the Library; Roland is the main one of them that she interacts with, so it feels as though we know him quite well, but towards the end of the novel there are a lot of implications that the Archive are hiding things from the Keepers, so it will be interesting to get more backstory on each of the Librarians and how they ended up in their jobs.
The plot line reads like a murder mystery, if you ignore the fantasy aspects. Kenzie realises that many of the Histories are being released into her territory around about the same time she discovers that a teenage girl was murdered in her apartment many years before. At first it doesn’t seem as though the two are connected, but as more of the puzzle pieces come to light it becomes very obvious that they indeed are. Normally I’m spot on with working out who is the bad guy in a novel, but this was one of the first books where I had no idea throughout the entirety of it, and only twigged on during the reveal – something that definitely made me enjoy this novel more, because it kept me on the edge of my seat throughout its entirety.
I wasn’t completely in love with this book, because of the slow start, but other than that it was flawless. The action sequences were clean and well-choreographed, meaning I could visualise everything that was going on without too much trouble, while the emotional scenes were heart-wrenching and thought-provoking. Victoria has an amazing skill with her writing, in that she can make you love and hate a character, and love to hate a character, so this was definitely a rollercoaster ride of the feelings.
If you love novels with intriguing and unique premises, this is definitely one for you; I can guarantee you will have read nothing else like it. I can’t wait to read the second book in the series and see where Victoria Schwab goes from here, because there is still so much potential, and if this book was good I’m anticipating that the second book will be amazing.