Friday, April 10, 2015

What we're reading: The Archived series

In The Archived, a young adult fantasy by Victoria Schwab, readers were introduced to the Archive, a huge repository in which the life experiences of the dead, who are referred to as “Histories,” are stored, maintained, accessed and “read” by staff called Librarians. If a history wakes and leaves the Archive, Keepers are dispatched to retrieve them before they can leave the Narrows (a twilight perimeter surrounding the Archive) and slip into the Outer (our world).

Mackenzie Bishop is the youngest person ever to be made a Keeper, trained and recommended by her paternal grandfather. When Mackenzie and her parents move into the Coronado Hotel to create a fresh start for the family after the accidental death of Mackenzie’s younger brother, Ben, odd things start happening, and activity in the Narrows skyrockets. Mackenzie is able to solve the mystery of the connection between the Archive and the Coronado, with the help of her new friend and fellow Keeper Wesley Ayres. But the events leading up to and surrounding that resolution are traumatic. Wesley is badly wounded. Mackenzie is almost killed. 

In The Unbound, the next book in the Archived series, only a few weeks have passed since these events. While Mackenzie puts on a brave face and says that she is fine, it is becoming increasingly clear that she is not. She can’t sleep, and when she does, she is plagued with nightmares about the History who attacked her and Wes. And her dreams are so incredibly real that they have started to bleed into her waking hours.

In addition, people have started disappearing. They seem to simply vanish, and the police can find no connections between the cases, but Mackenzie can: She was recently with all of them. She wonders how and why these people have disappeared, and strongly believes that the Archive may know more about what is happening and why, but she is reluctant to ask. Agatha, the Assessor who oversaw the resolution of Mackenzie's and Wes's recent trauma, did not agree with Mackenzie’s methods, and has the power to declare Mackenzie unfit to continue as a Keeper. As a result, Mackenzie is feeling more isolated--and less supported--than she ever has in her dealings with the Archive.

On top of everything else, school is starting. Mackenzie must face the beginning of her junior year in a new school where she knows no one. Any of these sets of circumstances would be challenging on their own, but together they are going to push Mackenzie to her limits. Will she be able to cope?

In The Unbound, author Victoria Schwab (who wrote The Near Witch and is also the author of Vicious and A Darker Shade of Magic under the name V.E. Schwab) takes readers back to a world where the living preserve the life experiences of the dead, as long as they can manage and control them. It is an endeavor, as both books in the series illustrate, fraught with potential perils. Schwab’s The Unbound is remarkably similar to Unbound by Jim C. Hines. Both authors explore how the events of their respective novels have affected their protagonists, making the characters far more real and relatable. Mackenzie has been through a lot in a short period of time: the loss of her brother; being uprooted and moving to a different city; and clearing the Histories she is charged with finding and returning to the Archive. Rather than make her superhuman, Schwab writes her as a vulnerable young woman struggling to keep up with all of her responsibilities. Schwab also explores how, both as a group and as individuals, the Bishop family is still coping with their grief over the loss of Ben. Mackenzie may be taking unnecessary risks, while her parents are leaning in the opposite direction--being overprotective of their remaining child in the wake of Ben’s death.

Schwab’s writing is strong, and she both fleshes out existing characters and creates some new ones for The Unbound, populating the world with people as interesting as Mackenzie. The last chapter of The Unbound indicates strongly that there will be at least one more book in the series, but no publication date has yet been announced.

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