Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A library of people, not books

Now is this creepy or what? You walk into a library and see your typical rooms full of shelves, but instead of books on the shelves, there are large drawers. And in each drawer is a sleeping person.

The premise of The Archived, by Victoria Schwab, is fascinating. Making copies of people so that when they die, all their memories are organized and preserved. There's something so reassuring about this, that when we die, our memories aren't lost forever. They are preserved in a library as Histories.

I love all the complications that this implies! Histories are copies, they are records, but they are also living people and they can wake up and develop a will of their own. A fierce will to return to the life where their memories come from, sometimes even making them violent.  The central plot is that someone is waking up more and more Histories and even altering some of them, erasing big chunks of memories.

My ratings:

Characterization: 5/5 stars. Not just the main character, Mackenzie, but her parents, her grandfather, all the Librarians, her BFF Lyndsy, and especially Wesley and Owen

Setting: 5/5 stars. The old hotel, the Coronado, and the Archive itself, with its stained glass creepy peace. I feel like I've actually been to both places - highest compliments possible.

Plot: 5/5 stars. Layers of mystery, angst, action, humor, emotion, complications, and a great unexpected twist at the end.

Pacing: 4/5 stars. A slow but rich start. Middle lost some pace, stakes could have been higher.

Dialogue: 5/5 stars. The repartee between Wesley and Mackenzie sometimes almost merited 6 stars. 

Personal appeal: 5/5 stars. What can I say, this book was right up my alley. Ever since I first heard the premise over a year ago, I've been stalking this book and it was fully worth the wait.

Literary scale: where 1 is "merely entertaining", and 5 is "really made me think": 5/5. A lot to think about with the implications of archiving memories, reading memories, altering memories, how memories could be misused. And the implications of having to lie in order to protect loved ones. And... more. So much to think about.

You don't mess with people and their memories (even copies of people) without stirring up some potential trouble! The Archive needs physically and mentally adept Keepers to return the Histories when they get out. Keepers literally push them through Returns doors, like library books getting returned to a library. (By the way, the Returns room - we don't find out what happens in there for a long time, but when we do -- oh, shivers). 

16 year old Mackenzie was trained by her grandfather to be a Keeper, returning Histories to the Archive when they get out. He had to train her, because he's dying of cancer. Which means not only a lot of responsibility for Mackenzie, but also a lot of pain as she faces her grandfather's death and replacing him.

The scenes with her grandfather are all short, poignant flashbacks, that do a lot more than just fill us in on what it means to be a Keeper and to do secret work for the Archive. There's many more layers, more implications, and I came to look forward to these short flashbacks like small rich pieces of dark, bittersweet chocolate life.

"Is it hard?.... Lying so much?"

You take a long drag and flick ash into the sink, where you know she'll see it. You're not supposed to smoke anymore.

"Not hard, no. Lying is easy. But it's lonely."

"What do you mean?"

"When you lie to everyone about everything, what's left? What's true?"

"Nothing," I say.


Now don't get me wrong. You might think the tone of this book is dark and melancholy and a little creepy. Which it is. Especially since we learn right away that not only is her grandfather dead, but her little brother Ben has been killed in a hit-and-run, too. Mackenzie is a girl with a lot of issues, and the author holds nothing back (unlike in her first book) and gives us a double-barrel full of her conflicted personality. 

But the dark/melancholy/creepy is just one side of this wonderfully rounded book. The other side of the book is bright and laugh-out-loud funny. 

Thanks to Wesley. I'll admit it, I'm a sucker for a tall, dark and brooding guy. So Wesley was a surprise. He's tall, dark and funny. He immediately won me over. I have not been so impressed by a Love Interest in a lonnnnnggggggg time.  I'm pretty sure he's my favorite book boyfriend right now. 

"Looks like you've lost a couple fights of your own," I say, running my fingers through the air near his hand, not daring to touch. "How did you get that?"

"A stint as a spy. I wasn't much good."

A crooked line runs down the back of his hand. "And that?"

"Scuff with a lion."

Watching Wesley lie is fascinating.

"And that?"

"Caught a piranha bare-handed."

Wesley dresses like a goth, in a lot of black, black hair, even black eyeliner (or rather, guyliner). He's not all rebellious goth, though. He's got another reason for dressing as he does that ties in interestingly into the plot. And sometimes the author puts Wesley into situations that contrast delightfully with his gothness, too:

He cocks his head at me, silver glinting in his ears. He paints quite a picture, decked in black, a teasing smile and a pair of lemon-yellow gloves. "What's the matter?" he asks, wielding the sponge like a weapon. "Doesn't it look like I know what I'm doing?"

And Wesley is vain, too, but he's perfectly comfortable acknowledging it. 

"Don't look at me like that with those big brown eyes."

"They not just brown," he says. "They're hazel. Can't you see the flecks of gold?"

"Good God, how much time do you spend looking at yourself in the mirror each day?"

"Not enough Mac. Not enough." But the laughter is gone from his voice. "You're clever, trying to distract me with my own good looks, but it won't work. What's going on?"

And he has a way of bringing out the best in Mackenzie:

Wesley kneels down in front of me. "You want to tell me what happened?"

I sigh. "I was attacked."

"By a History?"

"No... by Ms. Angelli's cats."

The corner of his mouth twitches.

"It's not funny," I growl, and close my eyes. "I'm never going to live this down, am I?"

But there is a dark side to Mackenzie. The author digs deep into different ways that people numb their pain. There is a mystery. There is temptation. There are Librarians that are nothing like any librarian you've ever met before, and the Histories tug your heartstrings all different ways. It all adds up to an ending that BLEW ME AWAY.

There was a twist THAT I NEVER EVEN SAW COMING. 

And there's something Wesley does to Mackenzie that blew me away too.  At the moment I wanted to drop-kick that boy and yet, it was perfect what he did. It tied into the theme of the book so well. The lying,  the secrets, the way Mackenzie learned how to numb her pain.

And another thing I loved about this ending is it wasn't a cliffhanger, it wrapped up the mystery but it also  left a bunch of questions open about the Library. Is it good? Is it doomed to fail?  

I LOVED THIS BOOK. I want more of the Archive and its stained glass beautiful, creepy sort of "peace." I want to know how it came to be, who built it, and I want to visit more of its "branches" and meet more of its Librarians and Keepers. And you bet I will be looking for doorways to it in every old building I ever visit (as if I weren't busy enough already checking wardrobes).

For me there's nothing like a fantasy twist on something familiar that I love, like a library. Or like how J.K. Rowling did a fantasy twist on a boarding school with the Harry Potter series.  Do you have a favorite fantasy twist on something familiar?


  1. Okay. You have totally sold me on this book. I am off to go find it.

    But hmmm . . . fantasy twist? The Candy Shop Wars. Love candy, and love that it is magical. :)

  2. I love a great premise and this sounds intriguing. Off to add it to my to-read pile.

  3. Intriguing. Thanks for a very thoughtful review.

  4. Just added Candy Shop Wars to my must-read list. Magical candy???? Oh yeah!

  5. How about a fantasy twist on an insane asylum? It could house all the legendary mythical figures like Santa and the Tooth Fairy. Only society has them locked up because they are insane (but they really aren't). They're the real deal but can't get out.

  6. I want library membership to this library please, thank you!! Wow! Lovely Margo - what an amazing book review! And a great twist to the concept of libraries! I guess for me it's the classic boring old wardrobe that opens out into Narnia..!!!

    Take care

  7. How interesting! I hope there's a good reason for archiving these histories... can they be used for good/for research? I'm going to have to check this book out. The idea of a goth love interest is pretty unique, too, and I love the premise of the whole library. Gotta check this one out!

  8. Oh yeah that is such a great idea!!! You planning on writing this or should I? Grin

  9. Did you catch my mention of wardrobes???

  10. I foresee a bunch of problems with that premise. But perhaps I'm being too nitpicky. I tend to feel that when authors deliberately try to "twist" something well established in literature, the twist almost never turns out as smart as the original.

  11. yes that's exactly the big question this book raises - I think it will be dealt with in sequel(s) - what exactly are the memories archived for?? For good or manipulation.

    Books like this make me wish I had my own lending library so I could lend it out to all my friends. I've heard this possible with Kindle now but I still love to hold a real book in my hands.

  12. I'm not following you here but I'm curious, please explain more. Do you that there are other fantasy versions of libraries established in literature that would be considered "originals"?

  13. Creepy! But such an interesting premise and world building. Thanks for sharing, Margo!

  14. Wow, what an unusual premise...I like it. Thanks for sharing:)

  15. I'm telling Corlath that you're literarily cheating on him. On second thought you go right ahead, I'll keep him for myself.

  16. Okay, you won me over. I have to stop looking at blogs, because my TBR list is too long and it's taking me forever these days because of the baby!! I need like a week straight to catch up! :D

  17. I always love reading your reviews on Goodreads, so thoughtful and thought out. The Archived is very well-written, hopefully I'll get a chance to read it at some point.

  18. I am an awful literary adulteress. Corlath, forgive me, forgive me! I swear I will never look a cute goth boy again

  19. No kidding! Stop it people with the good books. Stop writing good books! grin

  20. I may have a minor review addiction going on.

  21. So glad to hear your review. The Archived has been on my list or a while, too, but I have a stack of new stuff to read at the moment. But now I really can't wait to get to it!



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