by Victoria Schwab
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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.
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 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 might crumble and fall.
In this haunting, richly imagined novel, Victoria Schwab reveals the thin lines between past and present, love and pain, trust and deceit, unbearable loss and hard-won redemption.
Knowledge is power, but ignorance can be a blessing.
This book…this book took me by surprise. If not for how much the idea of a place where the dead are cataloged and their memories forever embedded in their very being (I think that’s the best way to describe it), then for how much I loved and adored these abilities.
A death is traumatic. Vivid enough to mark any surface, to burn in like light on photo paper.
Imagine a place where the dead sit behind shelves. Where they aren’t really gone. A place where, if word got out, the masses would storm to get only a glimpse of their loved ones shelf-only to make it out to be a shrine of something it really isn’t. The bodies are preserved. They look just as they did before they died-same clothes, same face-peaceful. But what you see isn’t what you get. Say one of these ‘histories’ wakes up. They break out of their shelves, they are disoriented, scared, unsure. And as they begin to slip….they become unpredictable. They lose their shit. They’re frantic. Their pupils begin to slowly seep into their irises until nothing is there but a black orb…and that person is no longer that loved one you once thought they were. They are a walking, talking, violent shell of soul and they aren’t where they are supposed to be-in their shelf. And that’s where the keepers come in.
We leave memories on objects we love and cherish, things we use and wear down.
Ya know, I got creeped out quite a few times. I make it a habit to stay away from books with people that have black eyes or where there are spirits or ghosts-I’ve learned my lesson and I know my limits. But, as I was reading this beautiful story and I began to realize what I had unintentionally gotten myself into, I couldn’t make myself put it down. It was so expertly written, with a soft finesse that leads you from one scenario to the next. Each scene unraveled in a way that made you so eager to continue that you couldn’t help but to become gluttonous with your limited reading time, couldn’t help but to curse when your time wound down and you had to give way to sleep lest you become a ‘history’ yourself the next day-all tired and disoriented and disgruntled. Ultimately, this author knew how to pull me along on a string and paced this so wonderfully that it never became too much-info, action, or otherwise. It was a mystery through and through, and I had so much fun trying to figure out who was letting histories out of their boxes and who was wreaking havoc in the library. I am not ashamed to say that I went in circles on who I thought the villainous traitor was. Because only a trusted someone could have been the possible culprit for wreaking the havoc that rained down on the archive library….right?
“What happened to the humanitarian approach?”
I shrug. “Sometimes it’s just not enough.”
“You are crazy,” he says. “You are a crazy, amazing girl. And you scare the hell out of me.”
The characters. I loooooooved the characters. Schwab painted such a vivid canvas that I could actually see their facial expressions and guess their next move. Mackenzie was such a great main character to follow. She was strong, fierce, determined to do what was right and just for the archive and those who inhabited it. She started to fall for a boy….but didn’t ever let it get in the way of her judgement (Ha, well maybe a little, in a weird way, you’ll see (maybe, if you ever read it, lol)). And then there’s Wes. I just…I really liked this guy. He was sweet, funny, witty, kind, caring, and, most of all, vulnerable. They’ve been through so much so when they finally meet and start to talk and realize things….it was like finding a mirror of their own soul, in a way. And, while he wasn’t in it an overwhelming amount, he actually made me smile so big. He was just so cute and so sweet to Mac! In a way, and this is very very minuscule, he really really reminded me of Augustus Waters-only in his wit, loyalty, and charm. He had THAT type of thing going on. I dunno. I was immediately drawn to his quirky personality in just the same way as I was with Gus. So…for me…there was that.
“Looks like you’ve lost a couple fights of your own,” I say, running my fingers through the air near his hand, not daring to touch. “How did you get that?”
“A stint as a spy.”
A crooked line runs down the back of his hand. “And that?”
“Scuff with a lion.”
Watching Wesley lie is fascinating.
“Caught a piranha bare-handed.”
No matter how absurd the tale, he says it steady and simple, with the ease of truth. A scratch runs along his forearm. “And that?”
“Knife fight in a Paris alley.”
I search his skin for marks, our bodies drawing closer without touching.
“Dove through a window.”
(Oh, forgot-keepers can’t actually tell anyone that they are, indeed, keepers-no one knows of the archive. Also, when Kenzie, being a keeper, touches something, if there is a memory attached to it, she can see it. It’s so fascinating and I wanted to get it in my review somewhere. Imagine being able to see history through an inanimate objects’ perspective-a wall, a floor with blood on it, a teddy bear a child held…it could SOLVE MANY MYSTERIES…unless someone erased the memory or altered them…. see the dilemma?)
I may fangirl and obsess and flail about on my reviews when I love a guy or a story, but it’s rare you see me actually, out in the open, smiling as I read. Like, Wes and Kenzie just made me smile. In the midst of pandemonium, they brought something real and palpable to the book that made the words jump off the page for me. They still did their jobs. They still had other things going on. But when they were together, it just completed the story in a circumvent way that touched me deeply.
“Don’t look at me like that with those big brown eyes.”
“They’re not just brown,” he says. “They’re hazel. Can’t you see the flecks of gold?”
“Good God, how much time do you spend looking at yourself in the mirror each day?”
“Not enough, Mac. Not enough.” But the laughter is gone from his voice. “You’re clever, trying to distract me with my own good looks, but it won’t work. What’s going on?”
A side character that I also adored? Roland. He trusted. He sacrificed. He taught. He mentored. And he was her friend and savior. I loved him. He really brought the story to another level. He was so sweet, kind, and giving. And, most of all, he was so funny. If you read this and saw the scenarios she walked in on-him reading Lifestyle magazines in a library full of dead people, feet propped up on the desk, wearing red chucks despite being on duty-I loved him. So, it was very fun to read and learn more about him, as well.
What if echoes through my head as I hunt.
What if haunts me through the Narrows.
What if follows me home.
That’s all. Honestly. If you pick it up, the story speaks for itself. The characters speak for themselves. The way it all unwinds….you get the picture. It’s an impressive novel with intricate layers that you should pull back delicately…but you should pull them back, all the same. It is expertly woven with a funny flair for the dramatic concerning certain characters, and I don’t believe anyone would feel they are wasting their time. I certainly cannot wait to read the second. I only hope it’s as compelling as the first.