The Unbound: An Archived Novel by Victoria Schwab
Genre: Fiction, young adult, paranormal, supernatural, libraries, ghosts, things that go bump in the night have never been so fantastic
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Summary: Mackenzie Bishop is a Keeper, someone who is tasked with taking down restless Histories who escape the Archive, where the dead are kept on shelves like books. Unfortunately for her a recent and deadly run-in with a rogue History has left her with nightmares and her capability at her job has been put into question. To make matters worse, she’s starting her junior year at a new school and the people she meets have begun mysteriously disappearing. Which looks awfully suspicious to her superiors. Will she be able to save the lives of those around her all while keeping her job and her memories, or will the bureaucracy of the Archive ultimately win?
Sequels are always difficult, and even though she hinted that writing this one was a beast, author Victoria Schwab managed to deliver a second novel that was as good as (if not better) than her original: The Archived. Although I must admit I have a soft spot for books set in or around schools, especially ones with kick-ass uniforms and color schemes. Blame Harry Potter.
Whereas The Archived deals with feelings of grief and the pain of death, The Unbound takes on more serious issues of the effects of grief on those who are still living. This manifests itself in Mac in the form of nightmares and various other PTSD related symptoms that may be a tad triggering to certain individuals. Rest assured though, while the series deals with dark topics and subject matter, it’s not all gloom and doom. There is light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s not just the oncoming train.
A little bit of back story: Mac is a Keeper and is in charge of returning Histories (the shells of the dead) back to the Archive (run by Librarians) where the deceased are kept on shelves like books in a library. Just like her grandfather, Da, before her. Mac is desperately trying to keep her job as Keeper intact due to the events of the last book in which she was forced to open a Void (an illegal rip in the world made by Crew keys) to the Narrows (the land between our world, the Outer and the Archive) in order to destroy the dangerous escaped History/revolutionary Owen who was bent on taking down the Archive. Just your normal summer vacation.
Don’t worry, if you loved Owen, his role in Mackenzie’s life is intriguingly explored in her Government class where her teacher Mr. Lowell waxes poignantly about revolution, reform and the belief of the revolutionary that what they are doing is just and for the betterment of all. If only my high school courses were so useful.
In addition to being able to travel in and out of the Narrows with her Keeper key (conversely Crew keys unlock shortcuts in the Outer and Archive keys turn Histories on and off), Mac has the ability to read memories through objects and people, which throughout the novel serves to cement the fact that humans are the sum of their moving parts and it takes many facets of a person to make you wholly you. We all have our own unique noise, which is used for adorably romantic situations later on.
As Mac recalls of her grandfather, “Da thought of people as books to be read, but I’ve always thought of them more as formulas — full of variables, but always the sum of their parts. That’s what their noise is, really: all of the person’s components layered messily over one another. Thought and feeling and memory and all of it unorganized, until that person dies. Then it all gets compiled, straightened out into this linear thing, and you can see exactly what the various parts add up to. What they equal.”
It is while Mac is exploring these bits of humanity (even opening up more to other human beings when she is forced to remove her ring, which serves as a buffer between herself and the unbearable noise of others) that the idea of masks come in to play. While Mac wears a metaphorical mask to hide her secrets about her Keeper activities, she notices that those around her wear their masks too, whether it’s to hide their own secrets or keep up a facade. Which all culminates in the students having their Fall Fest and putting on their literal masks. Yeah, there’s so much going on in this novel and I loved ever second of it. I am jealous of everyone who has yet to read it.
This time around (I might have gushed about it a little bit above) instead of the majority of the action taking place at the mysterious hotel turned apartment building the Coronado, the bulk of the text occurs at Hyde School, where students grade levels are shown by the color of the piping on their uniforms: green, gold, silver and black. Basically, both the Slytherin colors and some awesome accent colors because GO TEAM SLYTHERIN!
Calm down Ravenclaws, you got your color scheme on the book cover for the Archived, it’s our turn now. Gryffindors, you’re next. Hufflepuffs, take a number.
Hyde School has some secrets of its own within its wall, not the least of which is that prophetic name which rings of the dual nature of Mac’s own Jekyll and Hyde life which she must hide from her family and friends. And if that wasn’t enough, the school’s wrought iron gates with their giant letter “H” remind our Keeper of the gates to Hell in Dante’s Inferno. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here is right.
With a new location comes new characters like Cash (Cassius), the sexy and popular new love interest with the ridiculous name, his slightly grumpy sister Saf (Safia) with the even more ridiculous name, the police detective’s daughter Amber, and Gavin, the painful reminder to Mac of her deceased brother Ben.
Don’t worry though, Mac still keeps around the old cast of characters like fan favorite Wesley Ayers, her super sexy guyliner wearing fellow Keeper who she has all the sexual tension with and Roland, the kind and wise Librarian of Mac’s Archive branch inspired by David Tennant. Or more specifically, David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor who is tall, thin, has a preference for red Chucks and who sounds exactly like D.I. Peter Carlisle inside my head. To sum things up: he’s the best.
We also get to meet some other Archive members and explore the strange world of Crew, who are teams of two (a male and a female) a step above Keeper who deal with Histories who escape into the Outer. These partnered keepers — who give new meaning to the phrase “work spouse” — are marked by three notches on their forearms, one which is carved by themselves, one by their partner and one by the Archive. I’ll let you encounter all the various and fascinating Crew members on your own.
The Unbound even has an entire plot point that revolves around permission and consent and how you give dreams power by assigning them meaning and I could honestly talk about this book for the next 57 paragraphs, but I will spare you my continued ramblings. All you need to know is this: buy it. Read it. Love it.
-The fun of The Archived with the added bonus of high school shenanigans!
-Richly written, vividly told
-Roland the Librarian (AKA the Tenth Doctor) continues to be perfection
-Guyliner wearing Wesley isn’t so bad himself
-Neither is the “You don’t stand a chance, this girl has baggage” Cash, the student formerly known as Cassius
-If there are no more books in this series that would be a grave injustice
“People are made up of so many small details.”
“He used to tell me there were no bad dreams. Just dreams. That when we call them good or bad, we give importance to them … The fact is, dreams catch us with our armor off.”
“If it matters to you, then it’s not worthless.”
According to a recent ask response on Tumblr, Disney Hyperion has no current plans (at least at this exact moment) to option any more books in the series. For her part, Victoria Schwab has promised to do her best to keep the series going, but make sure you back her too. Buy the books, tweet your love to Hyperion with the hashtag
#TheArchivedNeedsAThirdBook, share them with friends and hopefully The Archived series won’t be shelved.