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.
It’s rare that as a writer, I’m left breathlessly wordless, but I’ve been waiting to write this review for a few days now because I couldn’t quite figure out how to describe how much I loved it. Here’s what I’ve come up with: after reading this book, I will forever be classifying Schwab with Neil Gaiman in my mind. They both manage to create these dark, haunting worlds that somehow manage to capture hope and love in ways that are truer that one can usually see in real life. They embrace the creepiness of a dark hallway and the echoes of humming and yet the way each of the characters clings to the importance of life, it adds that tiny flicker of light that makes the story enthralling. In some ways this book reminds me a little of The Graveyard Book, in that she took this place that can be really quite scary and made it into a place where people live at least part of their lives.
Now, to the reason for why exactly this book is so thoroughly compelling: Schwab has this uncanny ability to write protagonist who are heart-wrenchingly endearing. She writes them so well that it won’t matter if you can relate to them on a meta level, whether you’ve lost a sibling, because you’ll be able to feel what they’re feeling. It’s not hard to imagine the compulsion to keep things that were important to the brother you lost. I’d prefer not to because it’s far too painful to imagine my life without my goof of a brother in it, but Schwab made it so that I didn’t have to. She wrote it so that the pain was there on the page so that I didn’t have to look inside myself to figure out what the character was experiencing. Oddly, the icing on the cake, the one thing that made wish she was real, was the fact that she can read the history of any place, so she, of course, would read the history of her room. That one moment of curiosity made her into a real human being for me. If you could see all the people who had lived where you live, wouldn’t you? I know I would.
Schwab, of course, wrote this book in the same way as The Near Witch, by which I mean that it’s vibrant and evocative. She really does use words as if they’re paint. I compared The Near Witch to a Caravaggio painting, but after reading The Archived, I realize that this is the book that more aptly resembles the master. You see, Caravaggio was the first to use chiaroscuro, which is the use of light and dark to create high contrasts. In The Archived, Schwab does this to sublime effect. Whether it’s in the Narrows, where the only light comes from the cracks around the doors or when her mom’s cleaning the floor and you get the contrast of the brilliantly clean and sparkling inlaid rose against the dust clogged marble surrounding it, Schwab has no problem using contrast to bring an her work to life. These images all stand out in my mind still, a week later because they’re so incredibly easy to see. Schwab creates this vibrant tapestry on which her characters play and it feels more like watching a movie than it does reading a book because I’m not reading everything and imagining it. No, I’m watching it happen and it’s amazing.
This book will be coming out on January 22, 2013 and you really should pick it up. It’s entirely worth it.
4.5 ink bottles.
Character Believability: 5 Buffys
Character Investibility: 5 Doctors
Pacing/Urgency/Tension: 4.5 Dresdens
Worldbilding: 5 Snyders
Language: 5 Feegles
Mystery: 4 Sherlocks
Book Links: Goodreads