The Archive of the Forgotten
- Author: A.J. Hackwith
- Genre: Fantasy
- Publication Date: October 6, 2020
- Publisher: Ace Books
- Series: Hell’s Library #2
In this richly imagined fantasy adventure, Hell is home to a library filled with unwritten stories, powerful mysteries, and dark choices.
The Library of the Unwritten in Hell was saved from total devastation, but hundreds of potential books were destroyed, and the dreams that were held within them will never be realized. When the remnants of those books begin to leak a strange ink, former librarian Claire realizes that the challenges within the Library have only just begun.
Claire and Brevity the muse are immediately at odds concerning how to treat the ink, and they’re not the only ones interested in its mysterious power. As tensions between Claire and Brevity rise, their companions Hero and Rami search the other realms for the mythical origins of unwritten books, but time is running out. Brevity will have to decide where her allegiance lies, and that choice will remake the Library forever.
I really loved the first book in this series (see my review for The Library of the Unwritten here), and so I was pleasantly surprised to learn that this book was being released, since I hadn’t heard much buzz about it.
After the tumultuous events of the previous book, a lot of things have changed in Hell’s Library. The biggest difference is that the roles of the main characters have changed. Brevity is now the librarian, with Hero as her assistant, while Claire is the arcanist, while Ramiel is her assistant. But the transition hasn’t exactly been a smooth one. The events of the previous book and what led to this transition has created a rift between Claire and Brevity. And if you read the previous book, you know that Claire doesn’t deal with conflict, trauma, or emotions very well, reverting to behavior that is abrasive and pushes people further away.
Since there’s a disconnect between Claire and Brevity, the story diverges as well. At least Hero and Rami still get along, and manage to get even closer. Rather than all of the characters working together to solve the mystery of the ink and learn more about the origins of unwritten books, it felt more like three different interrelated stories with one overarching plot, rather than one main story with various subplots. Instead of just focusing on the problem of the ink, the story delves into what happens to stories once they’re destroyed:
“‘Unwritten stories aren’t supposed to last beyond their books, Rami. That’s the point of the Unwritten Wing — maintaining and caring for the books. Take Hero, for example; he’s stuck as he is because his book’s been damaged. If some part of a story can survive the destruction of its book, then what really are stories made of?’”
Each of the four main characters has their own arc where they grow and change over the course of the book, and it was a beautiful thing to see. As different as they all are, there’s such a strong found family vibe. That’s hands down one of my favorite tropes to see in a book. And just like any family dynamic, there’s going to be conflict, hurt, and hopefully, resolution. Because who hurts us more than the people we are closest to?
“Ramiel had stepped in when Claire had been forced to reposition herself as the Arcanist, shoring her up with an implacable calm, a peace when all that Hero could offer was flippant distraction. They were both walking, nettling reminders to each other of what they once had been. Ramiel kept Claire standing, and Hero kept her on her toes.”
One of the best aspects of the book, for me, was the concept of the Library and the books themselves as being responsive and sentient. The whole story felt like a love letter to books and libraries.
“The Unwritten Wing had changed to suit its new librarians, just as the Arcane Wing had accommodated Claire. To Brevity, it’d felt like the Library’s way of welcoming her.”
The writing was beautiful and flowed so naturally. I found myself flying through the book, waiting to find out what happened next. The story is crafted so well that it felt as though I was along for the ride, traveling with the characters. I was a bit worried at first about picking this up after having taken such a long time between reading the first book and this one, but it just felt like putting on a comfortable sweater that I haven’t worn since last winter.
People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.
Gasp Factor: 10
Categories: Book Review