Book Review: The Archived, by Victoria Schwab

Book Review - Young Adult Fiction - The Archived by Victoria SchwabThe world of Victoria Schwab’s The Archived is so unique in YA fiction right now that I think it needs some explanation before I start my review.

The setting is just a few years into the future, somewhere in the South (Louisiana? for some reason it’s fuzzy to me), and there’s nothing to indicate things are much different than they are in our real, modern world. Not at first blush, anyway.

In this world, when a person dies, a “back up” – or History – of them is created and kept in a place called the Archive. The History is a solid flesh copy, but does not bleed, feel pain, or die again, and is kept asleep – with memories and personality intact – in a drawer stacked among dozens of other drawers, shelves, wings, floors, etc of the Archive.

The Archive is watched over by Librarians, who keep track of all the Histories and keep things quiet so they can sleep. But sometimes the Histories wake, and make their way out of the Archive into the Narrows, a shadowy labyrinth between the Archive and the Outer, or our world.

The woken Histories are understandably disoriented by what is happening to them and begin to “slip,” or get aggressive and try to get back to their homes. It is up to the Keepers to track Histories in the Narrows and return them to the Archives. If a History makes it to the Outer (our world), it’s up to a Crew – or a promoted pair of Keepers – to track them down before anyone sees them.

This entire system is unknown to the rest of the world, and everyone involved – Librarians, Keepers, Crew – are sworn to secrecy. Theirs is a double life.

To review, the main elements of the world of The Archived are:

  • History
  • Archive
  • Librarian
  • Narrows
  • Outer
  • Keeper
  • Crew

Oh, and the doors. Everywhere there are doors. Though regular people in the Outer don’t see them, and everyone involved in maintaining the Histories has their own type of key, depending on rank, that opens the necessary doors to keep everything contained.

{side note: I swear this is the longest build-up to a review I’ve ever written. but I felt it was necessary.}

In The Archived, Mackenzie Bishop is a 16yo Keeper, unique in that she took the job at 12 years old, four years before the minimum age requirement. Her grandfather – or Da – passed the job on to her, and a special exception was made because of her excellent training and drive.

A year before the story begins, Mackenzie’s 10yo brother has been killed in an accident, sending her family into a spiral of grief. They aim to get a “fresh start” by moving an hour away, to the city, into an old hotel-turned-apartment building called the Coronado.

The juxtaposition of Mackenzie’s everyday family life and secret Keeper life is interesting, and Schwab does a good job in painting the emotional details of a family dealing with loss. Mackenzie is a formidable character, seeming to enjoy the “hunt” of her job, and dangerously curious about the finer workings of the Archive as well as the history of her new home. Part of a Keeper’s gift is being able to “read” memories off of people and places, and soon after she moves in, Mackenzie starts to explore the history behind the Coronado. What she finds is a murder mystery with ties back to the Archive, which sets off a domino effect of disruption and violence.

My favorite parts of The Archived are Mackenzie’s recollections of her grandfather, and all he taught her regarding her role as Keeper. They are poignant memories, laced with love, and it helps to sharpen Mackenzie’s character and bring Da into focus, a character who is never actually alive in the time period of the book.

The writing style is measured, with parts of the story picking up the pace, which gives the book some nice dynamics. I liked the character of Wes – a boy Mackenzie meets at the Coronado – and even some of the minor characters (like her parents, her best friend, some of the other residents of the Coronado) are given enough weight to matter. The Librarian Roland is also a favorite as a mentor and father figure to her in the Archive.

For all of its unique qualities and solid characters, though, some aspects of the plot become a little convoluted as the murder mystery grows to include more details, more people, and more long-lasting implications. When I finished the book, I literally had to scratch out notes as to how all the pieces ultimately fit together. I was also more than a little confused at the speed at which a relationship develops between Mackenzie and Owen, a character she meets in the Narrows. It didn’t make much sense, and didn’t hold much tension or meaning to me since it seemed to happen in an instant.

Despite those slight drawbacks, The Archived was a solid, fresh read, and I’m looking forward to seeing what other mysteries and adventures are in store for this new series.

*Disclosure: Affiliate links included.