Thursday, February 21, 2013

Book Review: The Archived by Victoria Schwab

The Archived by Victoria Schwab
Series: #1 in the Archived series
Release Date: January 22, 2013
Publisher: Hyperion
Pages: 336
Received: ARC from publisher
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Goodreads Page


From Goodreads:

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...

...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.


I thought I was going to cry

I know I shouldn't build up all these expectations, because that rarely works out well. But I'm stubborn and a slow learner and I just can't seem to stop myself from building up all this internal hype and ideas about what I hope will happen.

So what did I expect from The Archived? Not what I got, that's for sure. At first I was really disappointed and worried that all my high hopes were going to come crashing down because The Archived was so different from what I was expecting.

But you know, different is not necessarily a bad thing.

This is not where I expected to be

I had no idea the setting would be the modern world. I was expecting a fantasy world, or at the very least an undefined medieval-ish fantasy-ish world like Victoria Schwab's first book The Near Witch.

At first I was pretty bummed about this because given the choice between the real world and a fantasy world, I'll pick the fantasy world hands down.

But, I coached myself to "just go with it" and I tried to forget my disappointment over the location and just settle into the story. It worked. Before I knew it, I was sucked into Mackenzie's world and I couldn't imagine setting the book in any other place. 

The fact that the Archive isn't known to pretty much anyone except Mackenzie and her fellow Archive employees didn't help things for me either. I hate it when a main character has to spend so much time and effort lying to her friends and family. It's exhausting! It also makes me sad to see that kind of isolation, and Mackenzie was so, so sad.

But, this turned out to be a good thing, too. Mackenzie wasn't the boring kind of sad. She was the interesting kind of sad, like Buffy living the lonely life of a slayer (and Buffy comparisons like that are always a positive). 

Which brings me to my heart breaking

So, yeah, I was kind of disappointed right off the bat, but I was also instantly hooked. I don't know what it is, but some authors are able to make me instantly feel for their characters despite the fact that I haven't even spent more than a few pages with them yet.

(In my totally non-authorish head I think of this as "character dust"—a magical substance only truly exceptional authors have access to and can use to sprinkle on their characters to make me fall in insta-love with them and want to shower them with all the gold stars and friendship bracelets I possess).

Erin Bow pulled this off when she had me sobbing in chapter one, and Victoria Schwab buried me in feelings for Mackenzie from the very beginning. All I wanted to do was hug her and make everything better.

Not only is Mackenzie alone and forced to keep her Archive secret, but the book opens with Mackenzie having already experienced two losses, her grandfather and her little brother. While she still mourns both of them, her brother's death has just occurred and Mackenzie is one giant raw wound.

Normally I would hate this so much because I have zero tolerance or sympathy for the "dead whoever" card. That plot point usually means a mopey main character and excessive harping on sad things. But Mackenzie doesn't allow her grief to paralyze or consume her. Her characterization consists of more than just her grief, and I think this is what helped me connect with her and feel her grief with her instead of impatiently wishing she'd get over it already. 

So what is this book about anyway?

Even though I felt for Mackenzie pretty early on, it took me a while to actually get into the book. For the first half or so I was prepared to give out a solid 3.5 because while I was enjoying it enough, I wasn't in love with it. Not enough stuff was happening and the plot felt a little wandering.

I mean, yeah, I felt bad and I didn't dislike Mackenzie because of the dead brother plot, but I was having a hard time loving the book because of it. Her whole family is reeling from this loss and while Victoria Schwab did a good job writing about all this, I still don't actually like that focus in my books.

It was dreary and depressing and I wasn't sure how such a central part of the story was going to tie into the whole Archive part. It seemed like I was reading two different books and I was worried the fantastical parts were going to be little more than gimmicky filler to trick me into reading an issues book.

But, oh my gosh, I can't even. The Archived is SO much more than an issues book, or a fantasy book. This really is one of those genre transcending books. It's one of those books that matter.

There's all these layers! Just like a cake. Or an onion.

Though it took me a little while to realize, The Archived is totally character driven, which is perfect for a character girl like me. I fell in love with pretty much everyone, including all the villains.

Who, by the way, are the most awesome kind of villain because they're both Very Bad and totally not bad at all. I can completely see their side of things and they make me wonder if I might do what they did if I were ever in their position. Victoria Schwab sets the bar high and gets ALL the gold star points for making villains like this. 

Most of the book is told from Mackenzie's POV in the present, but every so often there would be chapters or sections in italics that take the reader back to when Mackenzie's grandfather was still alive. At first I was confused by these parts since they come on suddenly and the narrative style switches to Mackenzie speaking directly to the memory of her grandfather about the times he trained her to be a Keeper.

Once I caught on though, these sections were great. I liked how instead of info-dumping about how the world of the Archive works, Victoria Schwab chose to explain much of this through these flashbacks (for lack of a better word). Not only was she able to build the world this way, she also deepened the relationship between Mackenzie and her grandfather and illustrated how emotionally taxing it is to be a Keeper. This whole thing added a layer of depth that really brought the book to a higher level.

It also made me sob like a baby.

But don't worry, I didn't cry the whole time. There's also a lot of action!

So, yeah, there's a lot of depth and feeling and important stuff like that.

But there's also a whole lot of butt-kicking.

Mackenzie's job as a Keeper is dangerous, and getting increasingly more so (for mysterious reasons!). Mackenzie spends a whole lot of time in this purgatory-like area between the Archive and our world trying to send wandering ghosts back to the Archive. And by "trying to send" I mean beating them up and shoving them through these creepy "walk into the light" doors that suck the ghosts back into the Archive.

Basically, Mackenzie was like Buffy wandering the graveyards looking to dust some vamps. Which is awesome! Reading these scenes was SO much fun. They made me feel pumped and like I could totally go out there and beat up muggers or something. (Except, not really, because walking up three flights of stairs leaves me winded so roudhouse kicks are pretty much out).

I was super caught up in her regular slayer-ish activities, but there's also a mystery! And, oh, it's a good one. It took a little while to get going, and I admit, I did get a little impatient, but I was totally hooked once it did kick in. This was one of those stories where I thought I had it all figured out, and while I was kind of on the right track, I was also really off base. My jaw pretty much dropped when all the pieces started coming together and I started to realize what was really going on.

Did you think I was going to forget to talk about the boys?

Yup, there are two. No, this isn't a love triangle. And, yes, I've fallen hopelessly in love with both of them (though guyliner? Really?)

One is snarky, funny, and supportive and pretty much a rock for Mackenzie to hang onto. I couldn't help grinning every time I'd read his lines. He's...infectious, in a happy way.

The other is mysterious and wounded without being lame, broody, or annoying. Also, lots of points for the swoony kisses!

Bottom line

I am so hooked. There is no doubt I'll be pushing this book on people and eagerly (note, I did not say patiently) awaiting the sequel.

There are levels and secrets and all sorts of internal politics to the world of the Archive and Mackenzie, being fairly low on the totem pole, is just starting to discover what's really going on. Now that she's nudged the door open, I cannot wait to follow her as she unearths all the secrets!

Also, the ending is pretty much a cliffhanger (see the "not patiently waiting" part).

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

Do you have any questions about The Archived that I haven't addressed? 
Feel free to ask in the comments!

Looking for another book like this? 
You might like: 

Click on the covers to go to my reviews.


  1. To be honest, I wasn't sure about picking this one up. I thought "Near Witch" was so-so but I did see Schwab's talent. The concept of the Archived has be intrigued and perhaps I'm a bit too quick to judge with this one. I think I might need to reconsider this one but that cliffhanger makes me think I might pick it up when book 2 is closer on the horizon.

    1. I think this is another book where it's not fully realizing her potential, but there's a boatload of potential in there. It's very different from The Near Witch in subject matter, pacing, and tone, so I'd suggest going into it without any Near Witch expectations.

  2. I just got to meet Victoria Schwab last week at a book panel. She's wonderful! It was great to hear her insight on the book, and I love your raving review. She had a great take on her writing process and her character development and insight. If you ever get the chance to talk to her, TAKE IT!

    1. That's so cool! Thanks for the heads up. If I can muster up my courage to speak (or stand) in an author's presence, then I will definitely keep her in mind. Thanks!

  3. I haven't read The Near Witch and have been debating this one but was afraid due to all the hype. You've totally convinced me that this has to be added to my wishlist though! Love your reviews, Small!

    1. I wouldn't say it's a perfect book, but there's so much that's good about it I would definitely recommend giving it a shot. Maybe lower the hype-expectations bar a little and you should be good to go.

  4. I'm glad you enjoyed it! I keep hearing really good things about this book, even from people who didn't like the The Near Witch as much - like me - I hope I can read it and that I like it :D

    1. It's totally different from The Near Witch. In pretty much every way. :)

  5. Ok--even though I am doubtful about the dead boy thing (ever since I ended up with two of my own, it's gotten worse), but I'll try it!

  6. I wasn't sure about reading this one, but I think your review may just have convinced me. You pointed out a lot of elements that I like in books and now I'm all intrigued! :)

    1. I think you might like it. It's a little slow to get started, but totally worth it in the end, I think. :)

  7. Interesting! Okay, I'm adding it to my TBR.

    1. I hope you enjoy it! It takes a little while to get going, but I think overall it's well worth the read.

  8. Yay! I am so glad that you ended up liking this one. Thanks for explaining that even though it wasn't what you expected that you still ended up liking it a lot! I sometimes lose hope with a book if it's not what I wanted at that time (but also sometimes come back when I'm more forgiving) but will probably give this one more leeway.

    Thanks for the great review!

    1. I SO know what you mean! I'm awful with expectations and I'm so stubborn that I have a really hard time letting go what I expected to happen and embracing what actually did happen. In this case though, I think the book is special enough to just go with the flow. I hope you enjoy it!

  9. I'm so glad you loved this one! I didn't like it as much, but I definitely did enjoy it and am looking forward to book 2 :))

    Great review, Small!

    Sierra @ Yearning to Read

    1. I'm sorry you did like it as much, but I'm looking forward to your thoughts on book 2! I hope book 2 is paced a little more consistently.

  10. Ok, I started reading your review and I was already deflated, darn it she hated it! I've been looking forward to this and it wasn't any good. Then, I kept reading and I started to get a glimmer of excitement going and as I continued it just got better and better. I'm so glad you enjoyed it. Though it didn't make special shelf or even five stars, I'm still very pumped about reading it and think it will work great for what my reading tastes are. Thanks for a very detailed and fun to read review.

    1. I think you will appreciate this book a lot. It has all the subtle but strong personal relationships that I know you can really appreciate.

  11. Been wanting to read book since I saw it, and now I WANT IT! So, so excited!

    Great review!

  12. I loved The Near Witch but still need to read this one and am looking forward to reading it. Bonus points for no love triangle and villains that are complex and well-developed. I hate stereotypical villains!

    1. These villains are wonderful! Definitely not the cackling stereotype. I hope you like them as much as I do!

  13. I got really excited because I was all, "I THINK I HAVE THIS!!" but then I realized I have The Near Witch. Boo! Have you read The Near Witch?

    Also, I'm worried because you compared this to Erin Bow and I wasn't so much a fan of Plain Kate. I get overwhelmed with too much sad. My heart is weak!

    1. I have read The Near Witch! I really liked that one too, but it's a very different sort of book. Victoria Schwab really has a wide range as an author.

      There is a LOT of sad in this book. But also lots of action and fun, so there's that. :)

  14. I'm glad you ended up enjoying this one. And oh my gosh the emotions! Yes, they nearly killed me. And I agree, this is a total character book, aka my favorite kind of book. Fabulous review, you have more than done this wonderful book justice! :-)

    1. Aaaah yes, the emotions!!

      Aw, thank you! I was so dissatisfied with this review because it feels like I'm not saying half of what I want to say, so thank you! :)

  15. I was pleasantly surprised with this one, as well. I'm not really sure what I was expecting going into it, but it wasn't what we got. OH, THE EMOTIONS. And the action, which totally reminded me of Buffy, too! I am just so impressed at Victoria Schwab's skilled execution of the mystery and world building that I am now an insta-fan. You absolutely should be pushing this book on people because they need to know how awesome it is!


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