I’ve really enjoyed Victoria Schwab’s adult works that feature a lot of fresh ideas and premises (Vicious, A Darker Shade of Magic), so I had high hopes for The Archived. But even though the novel had a strong finish and was overall a solid read, I found that it was slow to start and felt like just another YA paranormal romance, with little to distinguish itself.
The premise itself at first seems fresh: Mackenzie Bishop is a 16-year-old Keeper whose job is to hunt down escaped Histories, which are essentially ghosts. She works for the Archive, where the dead are kept on shelves like books. This angle is interesting, but some of her abilities–such as being able to read the histories of objects, and occasionally, even people–are not so unique. The Archived is very introspective at times, showing Mackenzie both reeling and healing from her younger brother’s death, but also features a lot of action, with Mackenzie trying to solve the mysteries of her new hotel-turned-apartment home.
While I could appreciate Mackenzie’s struggle over the loss of her brother, Ben, I found it difficult to connect with her or feel her loss. We don’t know much about Ben beyond a few fragments of memory, and instead are often told about how much Mackenzie misses him or how much she and her family are still hurting. This is part of the reason why I found the book slow to start, because much of the beginning is Mackenzie grieving over her brother while we are simultaneously introduced to her job as a Keeper. It was some pretty dry stuff.
We do get some fun characters, such as her new friend (and love interest?) Wesley, and her Librarian mentor of sorts, Roland. I really liked Mackenzie’s dynamic with both. Mackenzie is also a great, strong female lead character. But while fun, the characters lacked memorability, perhaps because so much of the novel is focused on Mackenzie’s personal struggles. She is very much an independent woman and that shows, but I struggled to connect with her personal struggles, so that made reading some of the sequences a bit of a chore.
The second half of the book and ending tighten up quite a bit. Schwab feeds us more interesting parts of the world of Keepers and Archives and doors, while leaving enough to explore further in a sequel, and also picks up the pace in terms of plot. There are some twists and turns that you may or may not see coming, and overall we get a really solid finish.
The Archived is a really enjoyable novel if you haven’t read a lot of similar young adult novels before, but does not feel quite as special if you’re familiar with the genre.