The Dark Vault by Victoria Schwab – Book Review

Each body has a story to tell, a life seen in pictures only Librarians can read. The dead are called Histories, and the vast realm in which they rest is the Archive.

The Dark Vault is a bind-up of The Archived and The Unbound, the first two books in Victoria Schwab’s The Archived series. After reading The Archived earlier this year, I was lucky enough to receive an advanced review copy of the UK release of the bind-up from the publisher, which meant I got to enjoy both books in the series so far, plus a bonus short story. Since this bind-up contains two books, I will mainly discuss the first book in the series to avoid spoilers.

The Archived follows Mackenzie Bishop, a teenage girl tasked with the job of stopping the dead from awakening and escaping the realm in which they are held. With Mackenzie already struggling to juggle the two sides of her life, the stakes are raised even higher when she learns that somehow, someone has been erasing the memories of the Histories, putting both the Archived and the world of the living under threat.

“Because the only way to truly record a person is not in words, not in still frames, but in bone and skin and memory.” 

I remember reading a tweet by Victoria Schwab that compared The Archived to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and I definitely felt these vibes when reading the series. Like Buffy, Mackenzie is balancing a dangerous and secretive job with ordinary human struggles, including dealing with the loss of her younger brother and grandfather, moving house and school, and of course, friendships and romance.

I really enjoyed this read, particularly the way Victoria balances action scenes and emotional, introspective moments, and how in Mackenzie she’s created a strong, independent, but vulnerable and flawed character. On top of this, she throws in a creepy setting, a helping of mystery, and a secretive organisation.

“The silliest things shatter you. A T-shirt discovered behind the washing machine. A toy that rolled under a cabinet in the garage, forgotten until someone drops something and goes to fetch it, and suddenly they’re on the concrete floor sobbing into a dusty baseball mitt.”

Since this bind-up actually consists of two stories (plus a short bonus story), I can’t say much about the second book in the series, other than the fact that for me, the second book felt so much stronger than the first. This isn’t because the first story is at all weak, but because it built a strong foundation upon which Victoria massively raised the stakes for the second book.

The second book dives deeper into Mackenzie’s character, showing how she deals with the events of the first book, showing us some more of her insecurities. Seeing the impacts of the crazy, dangerous world Mackenzie lives in was a huge highlight of this book, since it’s something that isn’t always explored in YA fantasy, but I feel definitely should be.

Another of my favourite things about this book is that the premise feels so unique. There may be plenty of stories about ghosts or spirits or the undead, but I’ve never read anything quite like this.

“You’re trying to block out every bit of noise. But people are made of noise, Mac. The world is full of noise. And finding quiet isn’t about pushing everything out. It’s just about pulling yourself in.” 

Like the best young adult stories, this book explores some very real, very relatable themes. Grief is a huge part of this series, as are guilt, secrecy, and authority. As a book that deals with death, and a character who must keep the dead locked up away from the living, there are some big moral questions to be explored, and I think Victoria deals with this brilliantly.

It’s always hard to fault a book by Victoria Schwab. This is just another one of her books that I really enjoyed, particularly the second story in the series, which completely sucked me in and played on my mind even after I stopped reading.

I’d highly recommend giving this series a read.

“The Archive makes us monsters. And then it breaks the ones who get too strong, and buries the ones who know too much.” 

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