‘The Archived’ by V. E. Schwab is a young adult novel with fantasy and mystery elements. Mackenzie Bishop is a Keeper, and she’s responsible for stopping Histories, often violent and scared, from escaping The Narrow into the real world. Histories are copies of the dead, and for Mackenzie they’re a constant reminder of the people she’s lost in her life: her Da and little brother Ben, but she must never disturb them as the dead are meant to remain dead. But yet, there’s something going on in The Archive, more and more Histories keep waking and they’re growing violent, and there’s a web of mysteries surrounding Mackenzie’s new home – she must piece it all together unless she wants The Archive to crumble. This is the first book in ‘The Archived’ trilogy and currently has an average rating of 4.0 on Goodreads
“Because the only way to truly record a person is not in words, not in still frames, but in bone and skin and memory.”
This book has a concept I’m fascinated by, the idea that after death everyone’s memories are stored in copies of themselves called ‘Histories’ and then are catalogued in The Archive is strange and an unique concept. It’s a very interesting premise that Schwab makes sure is fully explored, and even though we learn a lot I was left wanting to know more. The story invokes so many emotions in such a short space of time and the characters feel real, with a plot twist that I didn’t see coming.
Mackenzie, the protagonist of the story is a very sad character and rightfully so. Schwab though writes sad characters like it’s her purpose to do so and so the character of Mackenzie whilst sad, was amazing. She’s highly intelligent and brave, but she can also be gullible and naive and she does have a tendency to shut people out before she can let them in. She is though incredibly likeable character you will root for throughout the entire book.
However, the first thing we come to understand about Mackenzie as a reader before anything else is she is still in drowning in grief. There are multiple flashbacks to a time when her Da was still alive and training her to become a Keeper, it’s clear that relationship was extremely important to her – more so than the one with her parents, and she still mourns him. Her younger brother, Ben, dies before even the opening narrative of this book and the Mazckenzie we read about is still not coming to terms with the death, still unable to let go in any capacity to her younger brother. The grief felt very real and had me tearing up at times as she desperately clutched to memories of him. She felt frustration at her parents for being unable to talk about it, anger at herself for being unable to remember every part of him, and perhaps guilt for not protecting him. It was probably the aspect of this book that stayed with me the most because the pages of Mazkenzie’s narrative are soaked in grief and mourning.
Something I also really appreciated is how Schwab dealt with any love interests in this book, because whilst she never denied Mackenzie’s attraction or desire for these love interests it was never a focal point – because it wasn’t a focal point for Mackenzie. Wes is a YA charcater you can’t help but love, he was a little bit of dramatisation that added some comedic relief to the story and was really appreciated; but he clearly has his own problem as well so he doesn’t feel one-dimensional. I know people probably don’t want to consider Owen as a romantic interest because of what he did, but he was a romantic interest at first. Mackenzie and Owen shared what she thought was mutual grief and she sought out comfort in him because of that. I thought it was a brilliant tactic by Schwab to show just how deeply manipulated Mackenzie was by Owen but also how smart Owen is by showing him as a romantic interest at first, and as well as that it was a great plot twist.
The plot in this as well is absolutely magnificent. Whilst this does feel very character driven Schwab makes sure you get your feed of action as a reader and also lays a genius mystery plot underneath the surface, that will leave you shocked and amazed you didn’t see it before. The reveal of Owen as the antagonist is brilliant and one you don’t expect until it happens, and then you’re left feeling as surprised as Mackenzie for not seeing it and not seeing Owen for what he truly is. It’s also a very interesting reveal as whilst Schwab paints Owen as the bad guy, he also has some complexity to him as an antagonist and you’re left wondering whether some of his points and criticism of The Archive ring true – he feels like a very early version of Eli from ‘Vicious’.
The world building in this is fascinating, and I was left wanting to know more about it. Perhaps that’s something that’s also keeping me back from giving five stars to this book, as I was left slightly confused as to how certain things in The Archive worked, and what the roles of the Crew were, but I suppose that’s something the sequel will answer. It is a strangely unique premise however and I loved the twist on the paranormal concept over the dead coming alive as zombies, and instead in this the dead can be woken up as Histories – scared and alone, and sometimes violent because of that.
Whilst this is definitely a V. E. Schwab book, you can tell due to how strangely imaginative it is, it doesn’t carry the exact same writing style as some of her later works. This was published before her ‘Darker Shade of Magic’ trilogy and the ‘Vicious’ trilogy we all know and love, and it does read similarly; it’s not bad writing by any stretch but I don’t think it’s as polished as her later work. It’s not a criticism or a warning to stay away from this supposed trilogy, it’s more of a note.
Whilst this story is captivating it is very easy to put the book down in the first quarter and you do have to power through it before you reach the main plot of the novel, but once you do it is impossible to stop reading. Like all of Schwab’s other books this is captivating and will leave you wanting more.
Whilst this was published before ‘A Darker Shade of Magic’ and other works and lacks some of the more nuanced writing Schwab later developed, ‘The Archived’ can certainly hold it’s own against Schwab’s other giant successes and is well worth the read.