Book Review: The Archived by Victoria Schwab

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“I don’t know, Wes. Everything hurts. I don’t know how to make it stop. It hurts when I breathe. It hurts when I think. I feel like I’m drowning, and it’s my fault, and I don’t know how to be okay.”

There’s a place called The Archive where all the dead go to rest, their bodies and all the memories in it stored like books in a library. Mackenzie Bishop is a Keeper of the Archive, she returns the bodies that wake up and attempts to escape. Mackenzie is also suffering the recent loss of her younger brother and she and her family have just moved into the Coronado, an ancient apartment building that used to be a hotel. It is at the Coronado that Mackenzie discovers an old murder that still has links to the present and will soon take over Macken zie’s own life.

I remember discovering The Archived last year. I was at Barnes & Noble, just browsing, and this book caught my eye because of the cover and title. I read the summary on the inside cover and I was intrigued. I knew I had to have this book so I bought it right then at B&N, full price. I have to explain that I don’t usually do this. I frequent used bookstores more than I do B&N and that’s where I make the majority of my book purchases. These days I get nearly all of my book recommendations from Tumblr or Goodreads (and now WordPress) and when I need to get my hands on a new title, I just order from Amazon. Buying The Archived took me back to the days when I would walk into a bookstore and I would just pick out books because I liked the summary on the back and because it had a nice cover or I just have a feeling about it. Not because I’ve read rave reviews about it or seen it in a billion pretty Tumblr pictures. Don’t get me wrong, I love the online book community and I’ve read dozens of books that I might not have picked up otherwise if not for it, but once in a awhile it’s nice to trust my gut instinct as well.

My gut was partially right and partially wrong in this instance. The Archived is well plotted and the mystery really did feel like a mystery to me, but the most important part of the reading experience for me is characterization and it kind of fell flat in this novel. I liked Mackenzie well enough and I could understand the pain she feels with the loss of her brother but I couldn’t really get into any of her connections with her parents, with Wesley, Owen, Roland, or even her grandfather. It’s like the whole time I’m aware that she’s a character, that they’re all characters, and not actually a real person. The best characterization happens when you forget that these fictional characters aren’t real, when the world inside the book feels as real to you as your own reality. I never reached that state with this book.

There’s a love triangle (sort of) in the book but I couldn’t feel a connection to that either. I liked Wesley more than Owen and had a bad vibe about Owen but I when Mackenzie started hooking up with Owen, I wasn’t really outraged or anything. I think Mackenzie and Wesley could have been handled better, but it was also nice to not have romance be the center of the main character’s world.

There are aspects of The Archive and the mystery that don’t make sense to me and doesn’t really feel resolved. That may be done on purpose because this is intended to be a series but its unsettling, and not in a good way.

tl;dr I liked the story and the plotting well enough but I didn’t feel an emotional connection. There’s a sequel now, called The Unbound, but I can wait awhile to read it.

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