Hi all, and sorry for my absence! I went to upstate New York to visit family and get some needed R&R. It also inspired me to finish three (!) books while resting, so I am almost caught up on my reading goals. One of the books I got to finish was The Archive of the Forgotten by A.J. Hackwith, an ARC I was biting at the bit to get and had the utmost pleasure to receive from Netgalley and Berkley Publishing. I loved Hackwith’s first book in the Hell’s Library series, Library of the Unwritten, and had high hopes for the sequel.
From the Publisher:
In the second installment of this richly imagined fantasy adventure series, a new threat from within the Library could destroy those who depend upon it the most.
The Library of the Unwritten in Hell was saved from total devastation, but hundreds of potential books were destroyed. Former librarian Claire and Brevity the muse feel the loss of those stories, and are trying to adjust to their new roles within the Arcane Wing and Library, respectively. But when the remains of those books begin to leak a strange ink, Claire realizes that the Library has kept secrets from Hell–and from its own librarians.
Claire and Brevity are immediately at odds in their approach to the ink, and the potential power that it represents has not gone unnoticed. When a representative from the Muses Corps arrives at the Library to advise Brevity, the angel Rami and the erstwhile Hero hunt for answers in other realms. The true nature of the ink could fundamentally alter the afterlife for good or ill, but it entirely depends on who is left to hold the pen.
What I Loved:
- The main characters. Coming back to the dynamic foursome of Claire, ex librarian and current Archivist, Brevity, ex assistant and current Librarian, Ramiel the ex watcher angel and current Archivist assistant, and Hero the wandering book character and current Librarian’s assistant felt so good. Hackwith wrote amazing characters that are all deeply flawed but complementing each other, who all have a common goal of saving the Library’s books from the denizens of Hell. Claire is gruff and at times cold because she has no way of expressing how she feels, but she is working on it; Brevit is full of color and light but can at times be too bold in her decisions and conversely insecure about her new position as Librarian; Ramiel is an angel with no heaven whose stoic calming presence helps everyone’s way; while Hero is a book with no book to get back to, a villain who is not a villain. Hero and Ramiel got some well-deserved page time in this book, which was a little lacking in the first one. Even when the pacing is odd and the story drags a bit (see below), these four keep the reader engaged. And the budding romances (no spoilers here) are too adorable not to root for.
- The other realms. In Library of the Unwritten, we were treated with Valhalla, and here, we get to see Elysium. I love how Hackwith incorporated all of these great mythological elements into what could have been a very Judeo-Christian premise (Heaven and Hell centric), and the descriptions are absolutely delightful. The premise that the Library has wings in all of the various realms, complete with their own Librarian, is also well executed and a fun concept. Elysium’s Unsaid Wing is brilliant.
The wings of the Library are multitude. What gets remembered and what gets forgotten? Books, poems, unsung heroics, regrets. It seems random, what the Library sees fit to preserve for eternity. What do these things have in common? Are they all creative acts, or fated in some way? What are the criteria of immortal survival?
The only thing I can see, from here, is that they’re all innately human, Humans are the only mortal creatures that compose such ways to express desire, want, regret. Expression of the way things should be, or never were. That’s a very human skill.
- The Librarian ledger. Throughout both Unwritten and Forgotten are chapter header quotes pulled from the ledger that all Unwritten Wing Librarians write in. While sometimes chapter headers seem ancillary or just for fun, these quotes are integral to the reader solving the mystery in this book. I love the timeline continuity as you read writings from Librarians centuries prior, all the way up to Claire, Brevity, and Hero. Hackwith wrote a story within a story.
What I Didn’t Love:
- The Pacing. I think that this comment is going to be fairly universal with anyone who reads this: The first half of Archive of the Forgotten dragged, while the second half flew by. The first half introduced a new character, muse Probity (more on her below) and dealt with a lot of simmering resentments, particularly between Claire and Brevity, left over from the first book. The second half dives headlong into the overarching mystery, takes us to new realms and wings, and gives us a hasty beginning of a beautiful relationship. While it was worth reading through, the first half didn’t deliver the promise that the first book gave readers.
- Probity the muse. Every story needs some conflict, I appreciate that, but sometimes the conflict comes in the form of a deranged flash of color who upsets the balance of a story and really doesn’t provide anything other than doubt to one of your favorite main characters (ahem). Probity embodies the archetype of a little sister who has hero worship for her older sister, but misunderstands that in trying to follow her older sister’s footsteps, she loses her own way. She is a wrecking ball, and Brevity, Claire, and gang don’t need more going on – they have their own demons (ha!) to fight. Probity’s character felt like a sledgehammer for the plot.
This was a solid sequel to Library of the Unwritten, if not as strong as the first book. I loved seeing our favorite foursome grow and being realizing their potential towards the end, and the new realism and worldbuild were very well executed. The pacing is uneven, but it was still worth the read. Four waves out of five! This beautiful book comes out in October, so you have time to binge read Library of the Unwritten first (order it here and here), then preorder Archive of the Forgotten (here or here) so that the plot is still fresh in you head, since Archive picks up fairly quickly from where Library leaves off.
Mad… now that’s a peculiar term, and, saints, don’t they love applying it to women. Women have a special facility for madness. We’re encouraged to go mad over the littlest things, because if our anger is caught and held on the big things, we’d shape the world. It’s acceptable to be mad; it’s dangerous to be angry.