The Archive of the Forgotten (A.J. Hackwith) – Book Review

The Archive of the Forgotten returns readers to ‘Hell’s Library’, a series that began with last year’s release of Library of the Unwritten. Following the events of the last book, Claire, the former librarian of the Unwritten Wing of the Library, a place where all the unwritten, unfinished books that never were sit on shelves for all eternity, has now been placed in charge of the Arcane Wing, a place filled with dangerous magical artefacts.

Luckily for Claire, she’s not alone, as Ramiel, the angel who was something of a thorn in her side in the first book, has moved into the wing with her, acting as her assistant, whilst her former assistant, the muse Brevity, has taken over for Claire in the Unwritten Wing. Hero, the escaped literary character, has also stuck around, and is working as Brevity’s assistant. Whilst this should mean that the group of unlikely friends and allies who came together to save Hell in the last book are still together there’s been some division amongst them since the events of the first book, with the new dynamic between Claire and Brevity leading to a crack in their relationship.

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Unfortunately, these relationships get put under further strain when Probity, another muse and old friend of Brevity’s, turns up on the scene. Not only does she seem to want to drive a wedge between Claire and Brevity, but she has her eyes set on getting hold of the pool of mysterious ink that has appeared in the Arcane Wing, ink from destroyed unwritten books that not only puts everyone’s lives at risk, but hints at ancient secrets that could change Hell’s Library forever.

One of the things that I loved about the first book in this series was that it felt grand. It reminded me of stories like Good Omens, where a small band of heroes are forced into an adventure that they don’t really want as they try to prevent apocalyptic forces falling into the wrong hands. We got to see the machinations of Heaven and Hell, saw Angels and Demons pulling strings to try and gain power, and there were high stakes throughout. This book, however, takes on a much smaller scale story, and puts our four leads into the limelight.

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Where the first book was about the fate of the universe and trying to contain a powerful artefact this story is more about the people who populate Hell’s Library, and their relationships with each other. Yes, there is the mystery of this strange pool of ink that has appeared, seemingly as a result of the events of the first book, but that’s just something that drives the action forward, a mystery that needs to be solved. The heart of the book is the people involved. Over the course of the book we see how the previous events have changed the dynamic within the group, how the decades long friendship between Claire and Brevity has been pushed to a breaking point. Not only that, but now that Ramiel is joined them proper, and is working alongside them in the library that raises questions about how the dynamic between the four leads has changed.

There is so much that happens during the book where you just think if they’d have talked to each other better things wouldn’t have been so bad, that the events that spiral out of control are because of the mistrust and misunderstandings that form in this group. Whilst I just wanted to bang the characters’ heads together and get them to just talk to each other their stubbornness meant that more often than not things only got worse, and it isn’t until people’s lives are at risk that they’re able to get past their petty squabbles and realise that their love for each other is what matters the most to them.

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I loved the journey that I went on with these characters in the first book, but this story just felt so much more satisfying because it put the focus on them. It made their struggles the central part of the book, and it meant that I came to understand all of them so much better by the time it was done. The characters no longer felt like simple characters, but deeply flawed people, even those of them who are ancient beings from religious myth. It made them feel all the more human, and all the more relatable because of it, and because of that, I can’t help but love this book more than the first.

I don’t know if there’s more to come with these characters, if this is the last book in this series or not. If not, this is the perfect place for things to carry on from, as these characters have finally had to address their issues and formed a closer, and stronger, unit because of that. If this is the last time we get to see them, it at least means that we know they’re going to be okay, that they all have each other and that their love will get them through whatever else they have to face.

The Archive of the Forgotten is out now from Titan Books.

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