First, let me say that this book had great world building. I could definitely tell that Victoria Schwab put a lot of thought into how the Archive worked and the rules of the Archive. I loved reading about the different parts of the Archive and how it worked. That was definitely one of the more enjoyable parts of this book.
I really liked Mackenzie as a main character. She was well-developed and I think that she was a relatable character. I liked reading about her and about her job in the Archive. I think that she was a very strong character for this book.
I loved Wesley. Wesley is someone Mackenzie meets in her new home. He was a funny, relaxed character that I really loved. He was a funny and laid back character as well as he was really sweet and nice to Mackenzie.
I think that the plot for this book was very good. It had many twists and turns and maintained a good pace for most of the book. I really had a great time reading this book because it was really interesting and I haven't read anything that is similar to this so it was something completely different.
The mystery in this book was great. I didn't really have the slightest idea of who the culprit is and Schwab does a good job of keeping you guessing until the very end, which was great.
The ending was a good ending and I quite liked how it ended. It wasn't a cliffhanger and it wasn't sad, so that is a good ending in my books.
Unique Premise with Fleshed-Out and Convoluted Worldbuilding
With one of the most unique premises that I’ve read in YA fiction, The Archived’s biggest strength came from having such fleshed out and convoluted world-building. With a cast of enjoyable, if not overly memorable, characters and a little mystery to keep me intrigued, I flew through The Archived in my quest to unravel the mysteries of this secret world!
Easily the biggest reason I loved The Archived was its fantasy-esque world, where people become Histories in death, shelved in a place called the Archives, cared for by Librarians. But, as with every system, there are flaws and sometimes, Histories wake up, finding themselves in the Narrows – the place in-between the Outer (real world) and the Archives. And this is where MacKenzie comes in – she’s a Keeper, garnered with the responsibility of tracking down Histories who have made it into the Narrows and showing them the way to the Return, so they made be shelved again. Schwab was able to articulate this world so clearly and so fluidly, that I was never lost about how it worked and any questions I was able to think of, were answered by the end. I loved learning about how the Archives functioned, and why they existed, so much that I was kept turning the pages in the hopes of being given another glimpse into such an interesting and complex system. Every time I thought I had a handle on why things were done, Schwab threw in another detail that left me scrambling to re-envision the world in light of this new information.
There was one thing that I found confusing in The Archived though: Mac’s flashbacks to the time spent with Da. For the longest time, we’re not told who Da is, so I couldn’t figure out if he was supposed to be a neighbour, some random creepy stranger, some relation or someone who just happened to choose Mac as his replacement. Once we found out that Da was her grandfather, I found the flashback scenes much more useful, as I wasn’t focusing on who he was as much as what he was trying to teach Mac about being a Keeper.
Mac was a wonderful protagonist! Extremely proactive, she wasn’t afraid of finding the answers on her own, even when that put her into uncomfortable or dangerous situations. I loved watching her internal struggle with lying to her family, since being a Keeper meant a lifetime of lies as no one is allowed to know about the Archives, and I found most of her reactions to be realistic, though I did question her judgment when it came to Owen; am I the only one who found their relationship kind of icky? That being said though, I understood Owen’s attractiveness, as he was able to quiet the noise that came with her responsibilities and grief over losing her little brother. Her easy and light friendship with Wes was a nice break from the darker tones of her life as a Keeper and he brought out a side of Mac that we otherwise wouldn’t have known existed. But, even though I enjoyed the characters – even rooted for them – I never truly connected with any of them; I don’t want to suggest in any way that The Archived’s characters were static or undeveloped, they just weren’t overly memorable.
Fortunately, The Archived’s plot moves at such a great pace, that I wasn’t really focused on my lack of connection to the characters. With the dawning realization that a Librarian is responsible for wiping certain memories from certain Histories, and that those memories all happen to correspond to a string of suspicious deaths at Mac’s new apartment complex, I was completely caught up in playing who-done-it. While I found the direction the plot took to be a bit predictable, it didn’t lessen my enjoyment. If anything, it made me even more curious to see how Schwab was going to tie up all the loose ends.
With several mysteries that were seemingly unconnected, only to come together to form one large conspiracy toward the end, The Archived’s plot kept me guessing for most of its duration. Add in some great characters and even better world-building, and the Archived succeeded at trapping me in its fantasy world until I had uncovered all of its secrets!
Before I started The Archived, I had fairly massive expectations. This is probably the most unique dystopian novel I’ve seen pitched in a while (in my opinion this book isn’t dystopian at all, though). Shelving the ghosts of the dead so their lives can be recorded and remembered is crazy, crazy original, and I seriously applaud Victoria Schwab for thinking that up. But aside from the premise, I hadn’t heard much about this book—characters, pacing, prose. I assumed that, since everyone loved the book, those elements would be well done also. And so, like I said, I started reading expecting a 4 or 5 star read.
And honestly, I was freaking out about this book before I even read the first sentence. The Archived’s epigraph is taken from one of my all-time favorite poems, “Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep” by Mary Elizabeth Frye. There was some spazzing involved when I saw that.
After that, I managed to calm down and read The Archived and I came away from this book highly impressed. Overall, this book definitely met my expectations, though it wasn’t a perfect read for me.
The premise, obviously, is Schwab’s biggest bargaining chip in attracting readers to the book, and it’s also her biggest strength. The entire system—Outer, Narrows, Archive—worked extremely well in context, and if I had any questions or concerns, they weren’t serious enough to detract from my enjoyment of the book. It’s not often anymore that I’m unable to compare one title with another, but The Archived and it’s set-up is far, far outside my normal realm of experience. If anything, though, I would say the Archive portrayed by Schwab was reminiscent of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books featured in The Shadow of the Wind and its sequels. The same gothic, enigmatic presence was featured in the two dusty old libraries filled with unusual volumes.
Schwab’s main character, Mackenzie, was certainly proactive and, in my mind, qualifies as a strong female protagonist. I think her reactions to situations were realistic and her decisions along the road more or less made sense. I didn’t really get a good “feel” for her though, and that was probably my biggest issue with the book: my “mehness” toward the characters. I’d say that I liked Mackenzie and her new-found friend Wesley, but I didn’t find them memorable and they didn’t stand out from other YA characters I’ve come across. But by no means were the personalities portrayed in The Archived bad or underdeveloped or static or any of that. I just didn’t fall in love with them.
This books storyline is more mystery-intensive than anything else, with the fantasy elements playing a nice background harmony. After Mackenzie moves to a new house, she’s responsible for a different “territory” of the Narrows, and for some reason, a lot more Histories are escaping into her territory than she’s used to or is normal. There were also several mysterious murders that took place in Mackenzie’s new home, and they’re tied to whatever’s going wrong in the Archive.
I wasn’t quite expecting that sort of mystery element in The Archived—as I said, I thought this was dystopian fiction, so I figured rebelling against the government would be priority number one. But overall I think Victoria Schwab handled her story well, and I though the reveal of the antagonist was well-done, even if I could have done without the big and dramatic villain monologue that came alongside.
Simply put, The Archived is very good. Better than just “good”, really. It’s rare that I have high expectations for a book anymore, and it’s even rarer that my high expectations are met. I was extremely impressed with the creative thought that obviously went behind crafting this book, and I look forward to the sequel.