Imagine a place where the dead rest on shelves like books. Each body has a story to tell, a life seen in pictures that only Librarians can read. The dead are called Histories, and the vast realm in which they rest is the Archive.
Last summer, Mackenzie Bishop, a Keeper tasked with stopping violent Histories from escaping the Archive, almost lost her life to one. Now, as she starts her junior year at Hyde School, she's struggling to get her life back. But moving on isn't easy -- not when her dreams are haunted by what happened. She knows the past is past, knows it cannot hurt her, but it feels so real, and when her nightmares begin to creep into her waking hours, she starts to wonder if she's really safe.
Meanwhile, people are vanishing without a trace, and the only thing they seem to have in common is Mackenzie. She's sure the Archive knows more than they are letting on, but before she can prove it, she becomes the prime suspect. And unless Mac can track down the real culprit, she'll lose everything, not only her role as Keeper, but her memories, and even her life. Can Mackenzie untangle the mystery before she herself unravels?
You may remember my discovery of part one to this series last January and my subsequent rave review of it. So I'm sure you can imagine my ecstasy when my highly anticipated pre-order of part two, The Unbound, arrived 8 DAYS before it was due on shelves. Swoon. It was all I could do not to stay up 24 hours straight and blast through it (I won't lie, being desperately sleep deprived from my 7 month old house slug helped curb that desire), but one way or the other I managed to savour it for 5 wonderful days of reading. The only thing that kept me from launching into reading The Archived all over again, minutes after reading the Acknowledgments to The Unbound, was that I promised myself I'd write this review before I got swept away by Schwab's writing for the second time in a week. Let's be honest, even as a re-read there was no way I would be dragging myself away from The Archived during my precious and oh-so tiny windows of me time.
Schwab has hit all the same perfect notes with book two that I loved about book the first. Her heroine is tough but relatable, and far from perfect. Mistakes are made and owned (no super heroics here folks). The love elements are enchanting but in no way overtake the story, become goofy or get bogged down in the tired YA love triangle. The ambiance is rich and evocative, the story is well paced and page turning, and best of all- even though it's a logical and clear arc from book one to two (and obviously I yearn greatly for a book 3 and onwards), this is a clean, well contained book of it's own. It does not need a sequel to make it read as a completion of a story. Clearly there are story lines that can continue on into another part, but if Schwab doesn't then it will not damage the story contained in the first two books, they are perfect stand alones as is.
This being said, I especially loved the development of Schwabs characters! The reader gets to delve deeper into Mac's issues with her position as a Keeper, her questions about the Archive and her worries about her grandfather. Was he really who she built him up to be? Or was he a common liar and criminal? Big windows into Wes's background and the introduction of his friends and daily social life were downright shocking, and of course more and more trickles of information about the cogs and wheels of The Archive all made this story even richer and deeper than the first.
Outside of the mystery and suspense of the story, I also loved how Schwab laid the foundation to a believable relationship for Wes and Mac. By showing other crews, as well as giving glimpses into their relationships, and having Mac consider what normal is, how and if she could be it, let alone if she even wanted it, all went a long way to making Wes less of the dream-boat available boy to the relationship that made sense in Mac's life. Mac is far too analytical for me to buy her being swept off her feet and falling in some kind of easy, insta-love.
In the end these two books hit every note I'm looking for as a reader, from complexity of character and plot, to beautiful writing and no cheap answers. Schwab has more than earned a spot on my shelf reserved for beloved books that are re-read often and with just as much relish as the first time. Since, at current count, I have seven large and very packed bookshelves, that's no small amount of praise.
Now excuse me while I go start my re-read of The Archived
The Unbound, by Victoria Schwab
Published by Hyperion, January 28th, 2013