Genre: Fantasy Age Range: YA Star Rating: 4/5 stars Series: Yes - book 1
Why doesn’t the cover match the title? I read this book in the bind up THE DARK VAULT, and wanted to include that cover. However, as there would be major spoilers if I talked about both books together, I’m splitting them into two separate reviews.
Imagine a place where the dead rest on shelves like books.
Each body has a story to tell, a life seen in pictures only Librarians can read. The dead are called Histories, and the vast realm in which they rest is the Archive.
Da first brought Mackenzie Bishop here four years ago, when she was twelve years old, frightened but determined to prove herself. Now Da is dead, and Mac has grown into what he once was: a ruthless Keeper, tasked with stopping often violent Histories from waking up and getting out. Because of her job, she lies to the people she loves, and she knows fear for what it is: a useful tool for staying alive.
Being a Keeper isn’t just dangerous—it’s a constant reminder of those Mac has lost, Da’s death was hard enough, but now that her little brother is gone too, Mac starts to wonder about the boundary between living and dying, sleeping and waking. In the Archive, the dead must never be disturbed. And yet, someone is deliberately altering Histories, erasing essential chapters. Unless Mac can piece together what remains, the Archive itself may crumble and fall.
This book has a haunting, uneasy air that perfectly suits a world where the dead rest on shelves and those that have to escape are hunted down. The settings themselves add to this feeling – a run down hotel turned into housing, the Narrows (grey corridors where Mac hunts down the escaping dead) and the Archive (the library of the dead). In fact, this effect is worked so well I was put on edge.
The mystery at the heart of the story (what happened to the people murdered in Mac’s new home) was engaging as twist upon twist and layer upon layer of deceit make it hard to work out who’s lying, who can be trusted and who will survive. The fact that there were murders in the past now being covered up made the stakes and danger all too real. The violence of the Histories (escaped dead), the strict rules of the Archive and their ability to wipe memories meant that Mac always felt in danger. The stakes felt very real, and the ending played into them perfectly.
Mac’s existence of lies and secrecy, not to mention the tensions between her family, made for an interesting dynamic. They’re all struggling with the death of Mac’s little brother, coping in their own ways, but these conflict. For example, Mac’s mum has thrown away the brother’s things, which Mac wanted. These subtle tensions felt so realistic and added another strain on Mac’s life.
Mac was a great protagonist, caught in lies – and felt very weary of them – while struggling to keep working as a Keeper and make her grandfather proud. The flashbacks to her grandfather built up her past and motivation all while providing information on how she learnt to be a Keeper and how the Archive works.
Wesley/Wes was so fun. A Keeper she can confide in, he gave Mac someone to talk to and made the world feel less isolated. He was also quite funny at times.
Her grandfather is referred to as Da, which rather muddled me at first as her Da and dad would be mentioned in adjacent sentences. Phrased like ‘my parents walk…’ and ‘since Da died’ made me think that her ‘dad’ was a step-dad until I worked out Da was her grandfather. The flashbacks are also addressed to her grandfather, written in second person, which is my least favourite tense. I lost a little bit of interest in these thanks to it.
The ending lost me a little (I was on a train watching out for my stop). It all moved so fast, and the betrayals and double-crossed came quickly one after the other and made it a little hard to follow exactly what was happening. I’m sure a second read will clear this up, though.
Interested in reading this book? Click the links to add to your Goodreads shelves
Read my reviews of other books by V.E./Victoria Schwab:
The Archived (this series):
- THE UNBOUND (#2)