The Archive of the Forgotten, by A.J. Hackwith

About a year ago, I read the absolutely delightful novel, The Library of the Unwritten, by A.J. Hackwith. That novel seemed written just for me with it’s eternal library of unwritten novels, nestled in an array of tetchy paradises, hells, and purgatories. The sequel, The Archive of the Forgotten, is a wonderful follow up that dives even more deeply into the mysteries and power of stories. All my favorite characters are back: Claire the prickly former librarian, Rami the ex-angel, Hero the ex-character, and the overwhelmed Brevity—all of whom have no guidance on how to handle the latest existential threat.

At the end of The Library of the Unwritten, Claire was demoted from Librarian and re-assigned to the Archive. Instead of books and characters, Claire has to deal with history’s mystical objects, magical bits and bobs, and snatches of supernatural materials. All this dangerous detritus is a piece of cake to manage compared to Claire’s grief over what happened to the Library. She hasn’t come to terms with the loss of her position either, an emotional hangup that makes things even worse when she and the new librarian, Brevity, find themselves at loggerheads over the appearance of a strange pool of weirdly aggressive ink. Claire claims the ink because it’s in the middle of her Archive. Brevity claims the ink because ink is clearly part of books. Neither of them wants to give way for reasons that take the entire book to work out. Meanwhile, Rami and Hero head over to the Greek and Zoroastrian afterlives (Elysium and Chinvat) to try and find answers.

There’s a lot of action in The Archive of the Forgotten, but it’s a more emotional book than The Library of the Unwritten. This isn’t at all surprising given that so much happened and so much was lost in that book. In other fantasy novels—especially that older generation of doorstoppers—emotions don’t seem to be processed so much as they are shoved aside so that the protagonists can go on to bigger adventures. This book would have been a lot shorter if the characters had access to a therapist, but I really appreciated seeing Claire and Brevity work through their issues even as they try to save the Library; the Archive; and kick some spooky, supernatural butt.

What I liked most about The Archive of the Forgotten, however, was the deeper mystery that Claire et al. have stumbled into. Claire and many of the other characters have wondered about the nature of the Library. Why is there a library of the world’s unwritten literature in a corner of Hell, anyway? Where do the books come from? Why can characters occasionally pop out of them to have new, unscripted journeys? And what’s up with the Muse Corps? I might not be a staffer at a post-vital library, but I’ve often wondered about what makes some stories immortal and others a flash in the pan or how authors can managed to capture deep truths in ink and paper. And I really, really like the idea that characters are alive on the other side of the page.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.

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