The Archived had been on and off my radar for awhile, but I finally picked it up last month and I was so glad I did. It’s a very well written blend of fantasy and contemporary, with a concept I found very intriguing. I give both it and its sequel, The Unbound, a 4/5 stars. And I eagerly anticipate the third book, which I hope will come out next year at the latest, though no word on any upcoming release just yet.
The Archived follows Mackenzie Bishop, who took over her grandfather’s position as a Keeper for the Archive when she was only 12. Now, at 16, Mackenzie has been hunting Histories through the Narrows and returning them to the Archive before they can reach the outside world for four tumultuous years. It’s a solitary, secret job, keeping the sort-of living records of the dead in line, but Mackenzie has learned how to carefully manage it all. Her life is in upheaval, however, as her family moves in the wake of her younger brother’s tragic death. Before she can even begin to settle in the old hotel that is her new apartment complex, with its dark memories and mystery plain for her to see, Mackenzie is bombarded with an upswing in the number and strength of the Histories on her list as the unshakable Archive is attacked from within. Mackenzie then must piece everything together in a fight that threatens the whole of the Archive, and every living memory that resides in it.
So one thing I really, really admire about The Archived, especially after attempting to write a decent summary of it, is the way it manages to weave exposition into plot. I never felt overly confused, but I was also never bored or bogged down in some detail rich explanation of something. It came together quickly, for a concept that I just discovered is difficult to explain (though a book never has to worry about spoiling itself!)
Mackenzie was a very good character. She’s strong. Strong to a fault, really, which was even more interesting. I really enjoyed the dynamic with her family as well, her parents are an integral part of her life and her story, for all that they stand entirely outside the more fantastic elements of it. The stress and strain of tragedy on a family was handled quite realistically, in my (un-experienced) opinion. Wes, fellow Keeper and Mackenzie’s eventual love interest, was such a great character as well. A bit angsty, to be sure, but sarcastic without being biting and good-natured without seeming impossibly perfect. Their romance developed quite nicely over the course of both books. No starry-eyed, fate-induced babbling, just two people with a lot in common and a lot to figure out slowly growing closer. I loved it.
The only negative thing I can say is that book 2, The Unbound, was a bit of downer after all the fascinating intensity of the first. It was lighter on the action, pushing that aside to deal with some more internal struggles that came in the wake of the events of The Archived. It was good, and I definitely loved where it went in the end, but it was just a little less easy to get sucked into. And it was a tad frustrating, watching Mackenzie struggle while knowing what is was she should probably be doing. The whodunnit bit was predictable to me in both books as well, but especially so in The Unbound.
Overall, the story operates on so many levels giving it a complexity that I would never have suspected such a short couple of books to have. Mackenzie’s dealing with the mundane and the fantastic and the two interweave in a way that makes both more interesting. The more mundane idea of coping with the sudden and unexpected death of a sibling is complicated by the fact that a version of that sibling is technically within reach, though he can never really be alive again. Underneath everything is this constant undercurrent of suspicion against the Archive itself. No one can really be trusted. Ever. So it’s fascinating to watch Mackenzie figure out who to trust, who to fight for, and determine what it is she really wants. It does what so few YA fantasies endeavor to do and weaves the mundane aspects of it’s characters normal teenage lives into the plot, enriching the story even more. I definitely recommend it and look forward to getting my hands on the conclusion one of these months!