I’d only discovered V.E. Schwab a few months ago when I had the opportunity to review a copy of her new novel Vengeful, so when the chance came to review another of her books I jumped at it. I began The Dark Vault without having even read the blurb on the back of the book, simply eager to read more from an author that I’d fallen in love with.
Not knowing what to expect from the book I was surprised to discover that it was actually two books in one, collecting together The Archived and The Unbound, complete with an extra story, meaning that at only £9.99 for a book containing two novels the new release is an absolute bargain.
The Dark Vault tells the story of Mackenzie Bishop, a teenage girl whose family moves to a new city following the tragic death of her little brother. Moving into a converted hotel Mackenzie’s mother opens a coffee shop in the building, with Mackenzie helping to get it ready before school starts. But little do her parents know that Mackenzie has a job to do herself.
She’s a Keeper, a gifted person who is employed by the mysterious Archive to track down and capture Histories in the space between the real world and afterlife, called the Narrows. Histories, we learn, are the collected memories of people who have died, a reservoir of all of their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Whenever a History wakes up and tries to escape it’s up to people like Mackenzie to get them back to the Archive before they finds a way into the real world.
The book throws a lot of new terms and concepts at the reader as we’re introduced to Mackenzie and her world, but V.E. Schwab doesn’t drop you in the deep end, instead choosing to allow the reader to get to know Mackenzie first. By the time the reader takes their first step into the Narrows we’ve already become invested in Mackenzie and the situation that she’s in.
Whilst the first book could easily spend its time just focusing on the impact of Mackenzie losing her little brother, moving to a new city, hunting down Histories it instead plunges the reader into a mystery that delves deep into the heart of the Archive, and Mackenzie’s new home. Whilst the mystery starts small, with the clues being given out long before you’re even aware that there’s a mystery going on, by the end the stakes have become huge, with the fate of the Archive, and Mackenzie’s life hanging in the balance.
The book also gives Mackenzie a number of romantic options, as many Young Adult fiction tends to do, yet subverts the almost cliched love triangle dynamic in a surprising yet refreshing way. The Archived feels like it should be a standard ‘paint-by-numbers’ teen fiction story, yet is so much more than that. It deals with loss and depression, it has a nuanced and believable lead, it subverts expectations, and it introduces readers to a strange new world that’s incredibly well thought out and cleverly built.
The Unbound is the sequel to The Archived, and continues the story of Mackenzie and the Archive, exploring the fallout from the first book. Set only a few weeks after the events of the first book Mackenzie is still incredibly damaged from the events, not only physically, but emotionally. The exploration of Mackenzie’s emotional state is one of the most interesting parts of the sequel, and at times it’s hard to know what’s real and what’s part of the psychological damage she’s suffered.
Moving Mackenzie into school is a great way of adding new characters and expanding the world in entertaining ways. The school setting should be cliched and I was expecting it to go a certain direction, yet V.E. Schwab once again subverted my expectations and made these scenes some of my favourite in the book.
What struck me most about The Unbound, however, is how much it feels like a continuation of the first book than a sequel. Whilst the two books work perfectly well on their own presented as one huge novel it feels more like one big story. Yes, there’s a break of a few weeks between the two stories, but it isn’t jarring like in some books, instead flowing easily from one to another.
The book is big, close to 700 pages, but thanks to interesting and realistic characters, a story with great twists and turns, emotion and action, and a brand new fantasy world to delve into The Dark Vault is an amazing book that never feels slow or boring, that keeps introducing new and interesting things, and makes you feel emotionally invested in the characters.
Whether you’ve read the books before or never experienced the series this collection is the perfect opportunity to own this amazing series.
The Dark Vault is out now from Titan Books.