4 out of 5 stars
Every body has a story.
Every time I see someone summarize this, someone who’s only heard about it, not read it, they sound really confused. Just let me clear the air – this isn’t about ghosts or zombies but it is about death.None of this is a spoiler – if you read the blurb, it gives you this information. This a really unique world unlike anything in any other YA story, which definitely has its flaws. The world is so unique, I’ll describe that first so I can go on to the characters and plot after.
In this world, when you die, a physical copy that looks exactly like you, called a History, is stored in the Archive. It has everything about you, all your memories and deeds, stored in the flesh of a being, but it’s not you, it doesn’t have a soul. It’s not intended to wake up and walk around and replace you. It’s an overly intricate storage file. This wealth of knowledge can only be read by Librarians. Your History lays in a shelf in the Archive, which is beyond the Narrows, a maze of corridors that acts as a buffer zone between the Archive and the Outer – which is our world. Sometimes, these Histories wake up and make into the Narrows. Keepers are tasked with recovering these Histories before they find a way out – which would require killing a Keeper and taking their key – magical keys that lead out or back to the Archive. The problem is that after histories have been awake for a little while, depending on the person, they slip and go insane. Kids are the most restless and recovering them isn’t that hard or dangerous. That is the only reason I can think of that 16 year olds can become Keepers. I mean, come on. What is it about YA and giving dangerous jobs to kids? I don’t know. And how does the History get from the quiet, safe, Archive and into the nightmare zone of the Narrows? This is never explained. Why don’t the Librarians catch them first? I don’t get that part.
Now for the meat of the story. I said death was a big part of this, and it is, beyond all the dead people on the shelves. Mackenzie Bishop is a Keeper, brought into the wonders of the Archive by her grandfather. She takes over the job after he dies. There are diary entries that I found really, well, irritating, where she’s addressing her grandfather. I found it took me out of the story a little, but they do give you important background. As usual, our special snowflake YA heroine must be the youngest ever Keeper ever approved. Because it makes sense to have a 12 year old recovering rogue Histories. However, special snowflake aside, I really like Mackenzie. She’s tough, independent, and takes no bull. And her life isn’t so great right now. Her brother Ben died in an accident and it’s threatening to tear her family apart. Her father has drawn farther into himself, and her mother can’t seem to keep still or face what’s happened. She is constantly giving off a forced cheerful vibe and changing jobs and hobbies like Mariah Carey changes clothes. Mac knows this is fake, because being a Keeper comes with special skills, including reading people and objects. She can feel emotions and she can see the past when she touches objects. This adds another layer to the story – Mac can’t stand being touched. She hasn’t learned how to block out the noise that people give off. It’s another layer between herself and her family, like the Narrows is between the Archive and the Outer. Now her mother’s new project (a coffeeshop) has taken the family to an old building that used to be a hotel.
The new location brings new people and doors into her life. All around us, invisible to most people, are doors that lead to the Narrows. A Keeper can access these with their Keeper key. Being an old building, The Coronado has a lot of doors. It’s also seeing a lot of action. All of a sudden, name after name comes up on her list, and one is even armed. How in hell did a History get a weapon? Da always told her to never use a weapon – she just had her wits and her fists. Mac does make a lot of weird decisions- and to me, the first is not telling about this guy with the knife. I mean, why wouldn’t that throw up huge alarms? Histories are bodies and clothes. They shouldn’t be armed. Why doesn’t she tell Roland?
Roland is a Librarian, and sort of her mentor. He’s always supported her, and with his cool red tennis shoes, he’s more #relatable than the other Librarians. She even comes to him with questions about the Coronado. Going against the rules, she’s researched her own room and seen some disturbing history. Roland has bent a lot of rules in mentoring Mac, including letting her sit outside her brother’s shelf, and supporting her bid to be a keeper, but her questions about the Coronado leads them to a mystery. Someone is erasing memories from Histories and even from walls and floors that have experienced things in the Outer. That’s completely against the meaning of the Archive. Roland warns her to tell no one while he looks into it.
Of course we have to have a distraction…. in the form of a love interest or two. First, along comes Wesley. With spiked hair and guyliner, he’s willing to act like a love interest, in the name of easing her parent’s concerns and getting her out of chores. Touching him sounds like rock and roll to her, drums and guitar. Then there’s Owen, a mysterious boy she meets in the Narrows, showing up just in time to help her with the guy with the knife. When she touches him, there’s no noise. He fills her with a stillness that helps push away all the pain and fear filling her life.
Yes, there are flaws of logic in the worldbuilding, but this is a really fun and fast read. I think this was one of her earlier works, the first that got a lot of attention. I have since read Vicious and This Savage Song, and they are both two of my favorite books, now. I love them. She is an even better writer than she was with this one. I cannot wait to get my copy of the 3rd book in the Darker Shade of Magic Series, because I am going to marathon that.