This review originally appeared on my blog, There Were Books Involved.
There is something about Victoria Schwab’s Archived series that moves me on so many levels. The Archived and The Unbound are both incredibly, beautifully written, and they effortlessly pull on your emotions. They’re exciting, heart-wrenching, intense, and completely un-put-down-able, and they will give you feels like crazy. They’re just… utterly wonderful.
In this latest installment, Our Heroine, Mackenzie Bishop, is desperately trying to recover from the events that took place at the end of The Archived, but she’s suffering from horrible nightmares about the History she faced. This leads to long periods of time without sleep, which lead to blackouts… and worse. Mackenzie feels like her reality is starting to unravel. Add to that, the fact that people around her are disappearing, and Mac isn’t sure if she’s making connections where there are none, if she’s somehow the causes of these disappearances, of if there’s actually something sinister going on… and that people at the Archive may be responsible.
--- The Worldbuilding ---
Other than the beautiful writing, and the emotions these books evoke from the reader, another major reason I adore this series is because of its world. The world and “mythology” of The Archived and The Unbound are wholly original and extraordinary and believable. The Archive as an institution (“where the dead rest on shelves like books…”) is absolutely fascinating. And we get to see so much more of it in The Unbound. It’s sometimes scary, and oftentimes beautiful, and always fascinating. The mythology of the Archive has a weight to it which is just stunning.
--- The Pacing ---
To talk about the pacing, I have to first explain that I think of both The Archived and The Unbound as “thrillers”, in a sense. And for me, my favorite kind of thriller is not a constantly action-packed “thrill-ride”, but one that keeps you glued to the plot and different threads of the mystery by slowly building tension. (Many people like slow-building romance… I like slow-building suspense.)
This series may not be full of explosions, chases, and constant action from beginning to end; but it’s full of suspense and potential, which keep building up and up and up, while all the while you know something huge has to happen to resolve things. So for me, the pacing in The Unbound is absolutely flawless, starting out slow (but never feeling slow — the characters are more than enough to carry the story), and then steadily building that tension, until the truly explosive conclusion. (No, literally — it’s explosive. Just read it. You’ll see.) ;)
--- The Characters ---
The characters in The Unbound are strikingly human. They are very much not perfect, and they make mistakes (lots of mistakes), and most of all, they are complicated. They are made of many, many layers. We all have different sides to our personality — some we show to the world, some we show to specific people at specific times, and some we keep hidden away. And I cannot get over the ease with which Schwab portrays this complexity in her characters. We are made of many pieces, but ultimately those pieces form a whole, and this is so beautifully realized in The Archived and The Unbound.
--- Mackenzie Bishop ---
There is so much going on in this girl’s head, and all of it is so raw and believable. Mac is faced with so much hardship, so many hard truths, and yet even when she’s given the chance to basically start over with a clean slate, she knows the importance of remembering those hardships. Our scars make us who we are. We are our successes and failures, we’ve lived through good times and bad. This is yet another reason why The Unbound is such a beautiful book, to me…
Every life is a pile of good things and bad things.
The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice-versa,
the bad things don’t necessarily spoil the good things or make them unimportant.
- The Doctor, Doctor Who, “Vincent and the Doctor”
I would argue that Mackenzie takes this one step further. The bad things not only “don’t spoil” the good things, they are just as important. We are strong. We survive them. And that means something incredibly important.
--- Wesley Ayers ---
Wes continues to be his 110% awesome self in The Unbound. I seriously don’t even know how to describe his level of awesome… He is an amazing friend to Mac, and their growing relationship (not necessarily romantic, but definitely something strong and real) is one of my favorite things about this book. Wes is often wonderfully flippant and flirty, but he’s also so incredibly loyal, and he wants to be so open with Mackenzie, even when she can’t be open with him. She has so much to work on and so much growth to do, but she makes such huge strides in The Unbound that I just… Oh, we’re back to talking about Mackenzie again. Sorry. Wesley. Wesley is wonderful. ;) We learn so much about him in The Unbound, but he still remains a mystery in so many ways… I just love him to death.
--- The New Guy(s) ---
The Unbound also introduces us to a few new characters, thanks to a new group of friends Mac meets at Hyde School. Most notable among them is a new guy-friend, Cash, who is kiiiind of awesome, and I loved him so much more than I expected to. Being completely honest here — I was expecting a bit of a competition between Cash and Wes, over Mackenzie. And… well, I don’t want to give anything away, but I was really happy with how this dynamic played out. Everything that did happen still felt completely in-character for everyone. I just… I hate to be vague. But that whole dynamic was excellently handled, and I could not be happier with it. Love Cash. Love Wes. Love all the rest of Mac’s friends at Hyde. Just. Love.
Everything about this series is perfect to me. It takes all of my favorite things and throws them all together and it is perfect. The library-based atmosphere of the Archive, the suspense of a slow-burning thriller, complex and believable characters, heart-wrenching emotions, beautifully-developed relationships… I could go on. This series is wonderful, and this sequel, The Unbound, could not have been better. It’s everything wonderful about The Archived, plus so much more. Seriously, guys, if you haven’t started this series, I implore you. Start it. You will not regret it.