Paranormal fiction, whether for teens or adults, has a tendency to rely on familiar creatures. Vampires, witches, were-things, ghosts, angels and zombies make appearances as villains or love interests over and over again. This makes original spins on the afterlife a treat. Victoria Schwab's newest YA novel, The Archived is just that.
Top Image: Maja Fabczak, Deviant Art
Mackenzie Bishop is a 16-year-old in mourning. Her beloved grandfather died four years ago and her little brother died only a few months ago. Unlike most people, Mackenzie doesn't wonder about the afterlife – she knows exactly what's happened to her loved ones. Mackenzie is a Keeper. She works for the Library, a place where the corporeal Histories of the dead are kept by Librarians who can read their memories. Keepers patrol the Narrows – the space between our world and the library – keeping any of the Histories who wake up from getting out. Most of the Histories who wake are just confused children, but occasionally older and more violent histories appear in the Narrows.
Mackenzie was trained to be a Keeper by her grandfather and she knows how to fight. She has the ability to "read" objects, which lets her see, though not hear, powerful, emotional memories that have been imprinted on things. She also has a key that allows her to enter the narrows and return lost histories.
Now that her brother is dead, Mackenzie's parents have moved to a new town and into the Coronado apartments. Her mother has decided to re-open the coffee shop in the lobby of the old building. Because old buildings tend to have more lost Histories, she quickly finds herself swamped. Luckily she meets another Keeper and for the first time she feels like she has a friend she can be honest with. But soon things spiral out of control, which might to be related to a murder that happened at the Coronado in the early 50s. Not to mention, there's a strange History hiding in the Narrows – one who is not violent or confused, but is awfully good-looking.
Author Schwab has set herself a big task, creating an entirely new mythology of the dead, giving her heroine a mystery to solve, and keeping the action ratcheted up. She does all well, while still interweaving the story of Mackenzie and her grandfather. These sections, told as if Mackenzie is speaking to her grandfather include some of the strongest writing in the book. One of the interesting things in the book is the thematic focus on secrets, truth and memory. Mackenzie's frustration with her secret life and it's circumscriptions grows throughout the book, while they are also the thing that tie her to her grandfather and her brother. It seems like the book should be more focused on death, but Mackenzie, even in her grief, seems to think of death in a matter-of-fact way. The book is a sort of paranormal romance meets Warehouse 13, without the genre's mopiness or the show's goofiness. The book is dark and somewhat angsty, but it's certainly not overwhelming or unwarranted. Mackenzie's a great character. She's tough and pragmatic, but not heartless or unemotional the way some "tough" characters can be.
The book is in first person, which is standard for YA books and I'm honestly torn on its use here. Mackenzie's point of view makes both her successes and failures believable and understandable. But new and fascinating worlds like this seem to cry out for some third person world building. Luckily, The Archived is the first in a series. There are so many unanswered questions about the Library – is it a natural occurrence? was it built? by whom? when? how do Histories get out? how are Histories made? – and the few answers we do get are so surprising that I'm curious to find out more.