The Archive of the Forgotten

Book cover: The Archive of the Forgotten - AJ Hackwith (Titan Books UK edition)Ideas never die, but do books have souls? Rifts have opened between Claire and Brevity following Hell’s assault on the Unwritten Wing and when a new threat emerges, sparks fly. How can they fix the Library if they can’t even repair their friendship? Just as well there’s a Hero on hand…

My favourite fantasy of the afterlife swings back into action as the ink of unwritten books destroyed during the battle for Hell’s Library threatens to unravel any person or book it comes in contact with. Claire wants to contain it before demons – or others – try to steal the ink as a source of power; Brevity wants to save the stories it surely contains. Hero wonders whether it could be used to write himself back into his book. Ramiel just quietly disapproves of everyone (it’s what angels do best), but really supportively.

It’s blindingly clear that the only way to handle the crisis is for our team to work together, but it’s an awfully big ask. Their reactions are jagged with grief and guilt. Claire is struggling with feelings of rejection, pushing the others away; Brevity, incapable of seeing books as anything less than people, is in mourning for the dead and terrified of her new responsibility. They have another disadvantage, too: neither Claire nor Brevity are fully trained Librarians. It’s Hero who recognises that there may well be a record of the ink that they simply don’t know about (and in the circumstances, aren’t about to find).

Some fast-talking sleight of tongue later (so to speak), Hero embarks on an odd-couple road trip with Ramiel in search of lore held in other Wings, granting us tantalising glimpses of other afterlives and the libraries they contain. If I wasn’t initially sure why Hero didn’t travel alone, I was quickly glad he hadn’t. The excuse that Hero can only leave the Library in response to an InterWorld Library loan had me in stitches; the unexpected bond that develops between the unlikely pair is just adorable.

But it was the Muse Corps that took centre stage. When Brevity’s former protégée Probity drops by to visit, she’s the sort of judgemental old friend who is here to help you make better choices. She almost casually drives an even bigger wedge between Brevity and Claire (it’s easy to forget that Claire behaved badly for decades before we met her in Library), but her focus is Brevity and the ink’s potential. Because Probity is a Muse on a terrifying mission, no matter how good her sales pitch.

After all, why not liberate stories from humanity? Humanity are careless and cruel. Humanity kill stories every day. Surely stories deserve better?

Probity is the sort of antagonist I enjoy: a true believer seeking to improve the world, whose moral certainty leads her to dismiss the concerns of anyone who dares disagree. Besides, I can’t resist a villain in pastels.

It took me a while to warm up to the sequel of The Library of the Unwritten, which roars into conflict from the first page. Once I settled in though, this is a solid expansion of a universe that is designed to hit book lovers heart-first and extract all our story-related feelings. It tentatively feels along the edges where books, stories and ideas meet, looking for gaps that could make the ink safe and bring Hero home. It is at times hilarious (thanks to Hero’s snarky POV) and at others philosophical, reflecting on the nature of stories as a way to reflect also on mortality and life. And in the end, it’s about a bruised group of outsiders acknowledging their flaws and trying to build bridges so that they aren’t alone in the world.

Sure to leave a smile on your face and a warm glow in any reader’s heart.

I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.