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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Review: The Archived by Victoria Schwab

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.

 Imagine that your life is like a book, each day a page, each year a chapter. When you die, the "book" gets copied or cloned into what looks like a person with bones and flesh (but not blood) and kept in a drawer to sleep (sort of like you would see in the morgue). These dead, soulless copies are called Histories. The Histories are housed in a special place called The Archive, which is like a library (or a huge morgue), and the workers in the Archive are called Librarians. But... sometimes Histories wake up, become confused, escape the Archive, and end up in an "in between" space called the Narrows. That's where Keepers like Mackenzie come in. Their job is to capture escaped Histories and put them back into the Archive before they figure out how to leave the Narrows. This is important because if they do manage to leave the Narrows and get into the real world, then BAD things happen. Confusing? YES.

I have to admit that I had a hard time wrapping my mind around the concept of The Archive and the Histories at first. I kept trying to draw these parallels between what I know of ghosts, the afterlife and religion, thinking that Schwab had just renamed it all to give her story a twist. And in a way she did because the Histories are just spooky and crazy enough to make you think that they are ghosts. But at the same time, the concept is completely different and there really isn't much mention of what happens to a person's soul when they die. Or, is a person's soul their history and life experiences? Interesting question that I will have to ponder. Another question that I ponder is the whole "why" of it. Heaven has a purpose; Hell has a purpose. For a while, I thought the Archive had a purpose, but near the end of the story I was beginning to have my doubts. Spoiler: In the end we find out that Librarians are actually Histories as well,  woken to take care of other Histories whether they want to or not. I started to ask myself, who runs this joint? Why? What is the purpose of it all? And I hope that the next book gives me some answers. Anyway, despite the fact that it took a while for the whole concept to come together for me, I still enjoyed the story throughout. There are great characters and a mystery to solve and heart-wrenching emotions as Mac deals with the loss of her brother.

A little more about Mac -- she reminded me a bit of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which I know may sound strange because the story does not have the same tone as Buffy AT ALL. There are no vampires, and Mac, for the most part, doesn't go around staking people (or Histories). But Mac does have this really insane, tough, and at times dangerous job which she has to keep a secret from her family and friends. It consumes her life to the point where she wishes she were just an ordinary girl who could go out on dates. And like Buffy, Mac is a bit kickass, with fighting abilities and a cool head. The way she commits herself to a job that asks too much of her gives her a maturity that I admired. Schwab does a great job of making Mac into a strong character who feels "real", who has real emotions, makes mistakes, and still perseveres. At times, my heart really went out to her, and I felt her fears as well as her heartache.

Schwab's writing is also just lovely with great descriptions and numerous details that made me feel like I was right there. As the summary states, the book is haunting, not unlike Schwab's first book, The Near Witch. Overall, it lacks that little umph that would push it into my top faves for the year, but I feel bad giving it just 4 stars because it is so very very close. Hence my 5 star rating, and hence my recommendation that you check it out.


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