Book: The Unbound (The Archived #2)
Author: Victoria Schwab
BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Mackenzie and Dallas talk about her problems.
Content Warnings: PTSD, death, grief, incidence of self-harm, dissociative episodes, blood, mention of attempted sexual assault, incidence of drugging a drink, hospital & scenes of a medical nature, mental torture, explosions
I first read The Archived in 2017, and I’ll be honest, I’d been putting off reading The Unbound, because I knew the series was unfinished and not knowing if the third book was ever going to come out, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read the second book knowing we might never get the proper ending. I definitely had to familiarise myself with what happened in The Archived before reading this, which I don’t usually do, but it had been so long, I’d definitely forgotten a lot of stuff! Still, this year I finally decided to dive into The Unbound as one of my #RockMyTBR Challenge books and I have to admit, I was disappointed. It was a really slow paced book, taking me almost three months to get through, and I still didn’t really connect with Mac as a character. Here is a short synopsis of the book:
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?
So as I said at the top of the review, my biggest problem with this book was definitely the pacing. I had the same problem with the first book, but it felt even worse here. The pace didn’t really start to pick up until around the last three chapters, so that’s a very long time to not feel massively invested as a reader. Honestly if it hadn’t been Schwab, I probably wouldn’t have finished this book. It was a slog to get through the first half and then the ending felt really rushed, so you didn’t really have time to take in all the stuff that was happening. A lot of the chapters were overly long as well which added to the slow pace.
This book is focused a lot around Mac’s time at her new school, which I found kind of dull, though I’m sure actual teen readers would probably like that more. This was definitely more of a me thing, at almost 25, I don’t really relate to school stories anymore, which is why I read more YA fantasy than contemporary, but the problem here for me was that there was so much focus on the mundane day to day of Mac’s school life rather than the fun fantastical elements.
I appreciated once again that her parents were actually present in this book, and I feel like this was a really good example of how including parents can actually increase rather than take away the drama from characters’ lives as Mac’s parents were somewhat of an obstacle to her adventures in the Archive. I actually felt kind of bad for Mac’s parents and didn’t blame them for not trusting her, she was constantly lying to them and even though I know she couldn’t tell them the truth, she did seem quite harsh on them when all they wanted to do was protect her (I’m clearly getting old being on the side of parents in YA books!).
I was glad that Mac’s trauma from the first book was addressed in this book: she’s really struggling after the confrontation with Owen at the end of the last book. It was super frustrating to see her refuse help, I understand that she couldn’t tell anyone about The Archive, but I felt like she could definitely have dealt with her other issues. Still, that is probably coming from a privileged place, never having dealt with the kind of trauma that Mac is in this book, and I’m sure there are a lot of people dealing with mental health issues that find it hard to ask for help, so on that front it did feel realistic, it was just more frustrating from a reader perspective because you so want her to deal with everything that’s happened to her. I was so glad when she finally did get to a therapist though, and it was really refreshing to see a YA fantasy book actually deal with the trauma that a main character faced, as honestly, pretty much all YA fantasy heroes could probably use therapy!
It was super frustrating that Schwab threw Mac into another love triangle situation, with Mac, Wesley and Cash in this book. Not only did it feel unnecessary because it was so clear that Mac and Wesley were going to get together, I felt genuinely bad for Cash because he seemed like a really sweet guy. It also just felt like super contrived drama to keep Mac and Wes apart.
It was frustrating that even though Mac ostensibly had a little circle of friends in this book, that she kept them all at arms’ length and seemed like she only used Amber in particular to get information because of who her dad was. I also didn’t love that the only people Mac seemed able to form proper connections with were the boys, her connection with Amber was very superficial, Safia seemed to hate her for no reason and the same with Sako. Schwab does seem to have a bit of problem with allowing her female characters to have proper and meaningful friendships with other women, which is something that I’ve seen carry through in her work: aside from Vengeful, and her Cassidy Blake books, her other books really aren’t that great with female friendship and I hope this is something that she works on in future!
Surprisingly, I didn’t think the writing in this one was all that great? I mean this was one of her earlier published books, so naturally she’s improved a lot since it was released, but even compared to The Archived this one wasn’t that great. There were a lot of overly long, clunky sentences and it didn’t have the same atmosphere as The Archived. The dialogue at least was still good, Schwab has always done great dialogue.
The cycling of settings was very repetitive, we were either at the coffee shop, at school, in Mac’s apartment building or in The Archive building, so once again, you really don’t get a good sense of the world. I still have a lot of questions about The Archive: how do they decide on who gets to be a Keeper? It’s clearly a genetic thing as it seems to get passed down through families but what is it in your genes that makes you a good Keeper? I was hoping that Schwab would expand on the world of The Archive more in this book but it didn’t seem like that was the case.
I wasn’t massively invested with the villain in this book, without wanting to spoil anything, I wish Schwab had gone in a different direction as to who was responsible for the people disappearing into the voids. The villain reveal felt kind of cheap and I feel like had she gone in a different direction, it would have actually resulted in a more interesting plot.
I don’t really get why Mac looked up to Da so much? I mean I understand he was her grandfather and she loved him, but he threw her into this life that she doesn’t even really seem to want and lied to her so much, I was surprised that she wasn’t angrier with him to be honest.
The characters in this all felt kind of flat. I had that problem with Mac in the first book and it didn’t seem to have improved any in this one. The villains were also surprisingly two-dimensional for a Schwab book when she’s usually so good at villains. Even Wesley who I really loved in the first book came across as kind of a jerk, at least in the first part of this book, though he did improve towards the end.
Mac made a lot of stupid decisions in this book, which yes, realistic for traumatized teenager, but very frustrating as a reader! She could have let Wes in on her plans, especially when she went to break into the crime scene and it didn’t really make sense to me when she didn’t. She cuts Wes out a lot in this book, which didn’t really make much sense to me as he’s literally the only person in her life who she can actually be honest with.
Honestly I wasn’t really sympathetic with Mac wanting to keep on with her Archive duties, because it felt to me like it actually would have been better for her if she’d been declared unfit for duty as she clearly wasn’t in a place to be handling Archive work. I mean I get why she was so adamant about wanting to hide it because she didn’t want her mind altered, but it was tough to read about her pushing herself way too far when she clearly wasn’t ready. I didn’t think Roland was actually really helping her out by covering for her, I think having the one adult she could trust pretend like she was able to do something she was clearly struggling with, actually made things worse for her.
There were quite a few YA cliches that as an adult reader kind of made me roll my eyes, like Wes being the guy that all the girls fawn over and Mac drooling over his abs. Again this is just a me thing, I’m sure actual teens would probably be able to relate to it more than I could!
There were a few kind of unrealistic things that bothered me: the fact that Mac was able to function as well as she did on less than four hours sleep a night was kind of unbelievable. Also I went to a private school, and okay maybe it’s different in the US, but I found it hard to believe that the Hyde school party dress code would be so strict that everyone wore uniform to it. When we had no uniform days at my school, as long as you weren’t wearing anything too short (like super short shorts and crop tops), you could wear pretty much whatever you wanted.
The action when it finally did happen at the end of the book was great, I just wish there had been more of it throughout.
Honestly Mac was supremely lucky throughout the book that things went her way, a lot of her plans were not well thought through and it was sheer chance that anything came off. It seems like Mac has nine lives the amount of times she managed to overcome what were surely fireable offences in this book!
Despite me really not getting along with this book, I really do hope that the third book eventually comes off because the way the book ended was not conducive to a proper ending and I want to see Mac and Wesley get a proper send-off. I also think Schwab has improved so much as a writer since writing this book, that Archived #3 will probably be the best book of the trilogy-if or when it happens!
Overall, I was really disappointed in this book. It was poorly paced, had flat characters and the things that Schwab usually does well like world building and villains just weren’t up to standard here. Maybe that is just a sign of how much she’s improved as a writer since 2014 though. Either way, I do still hope that she gets a chance to end this series on a high and in the way she always intended to.
My Rating: 2.5/5 (it kills me to give a Schwab book such a low rating, but here we are).
My next review will be of my June audiobook read, The Poppy War, by RF Kuang.