Every once in a while an email drops into my inbox and I have to re-read it several times because I can’t believe I’m that lucky. As a YA fan, I’m rather ashamed to admit that I haven’t read any of author VE Schwab’s bestselling novels before. But serendipitously, the chance to read (and review) some of her earlier works in Titan Books’ recently published The Dark Vault has given me the happy opportunity to correct that anomaly.
The Dark Vault
“Imagine a place where the dead rest on the shelves like books. Each body has a story to tell, a life seen in pictures only Librarians can read. The dead are called Histories, and the vast realm in which they rest is the Archive.
Mackenzie Bishop’s grandfather first brought her here four years ago, when she was twelve years old, frightened but determined to prove herself. Now her grandfather is dead, and Mac has grown into what he once was: a ruthless Keeper, tasked with stopping often-violent Histories from waking up and getting out. Because of her job, she lies to the people she loves, and she knows fear for what it is: a useful tool for staying alive.”
Binding together The Archived and The Unbound novels, alongside a bonus short story, The Dark Vault is the collection of VE Schwab’s captivating tales about the custodians of the dead. Hugely inventive and beautifully realised, The Dark Vault invites readers into a world below the surface of our own. Fusing together Buffy the Vampire Slayer style action with Gaiman-esque imaginings, the collection is an earlier example of Schwab’s creative force, presented here for the first time to the UK and Irish markets.
The Dark Vault is available in paperback from Amazon UK.
About the author
I feel VE Schwab probably needs no introduction but, just in case you live in a cave… She’s the #1 New York Times bestselling author of more than a dozen books, including the acclaimed Shades of Magic series, This Savage Song, Our Dark Duet, Vicious and Vengeful.
Her work has received critical acclaim, been featured in The Guardian, The Telegraph, Financial Times, and more. It’s been translated into more than a dozen languages, and has been optioned for television and film. When she’s not haunting Paris streets or trudging up English hillsides, she splits her time between Nashville, TN and Edinburgh, Scotland. And can usually be found tucked in the corner of a coffee shop, dreaming up monsters.
MacKenzie and her parents have moved to a building in the city called the Coronado for a fresh start after the death of her younger brother, Ben. She’s having a hard time coming to terms with Ben’s loss and knows that as a Keeper, she could find his “History” and wake him up, even though that’s forbidden. In the meantime, the Librarians of the Archive send her notes telling her which Histories have already “slipped” and need to be caught. Under no circumstances can Histories be allowed to escape into the outside world.
After a fight with a particularly violent History, she meets Owen Chris Clarke, who for me was the literary equivalent of Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. A bad boy who holds a fascination for Mac and whose ulterior motives only become clear in the second book. The other side of the triangle is Wesley Ayers, her fellow Keeper who also has hidden secrets which are revealed as the novels progress. I’ve always had a soft spot for a boy in eyeliner, although sadly none of my teenage boyfriends were as intelligent or as sexy as Wesley.
The narrative is told in the present tense which, I’ll be honest, is not something I usually like. But after a while it stopped grating as the story developed and took hold of me. I loved the concept that a Keeper needs to wear a ring to muffle the “noise” of other people. So Mac sounds like summer storms, Wesley sounds like a rock band, and so on. VE Schwab has done a fabulous job of ascribing the right sounds to her characters.
The blurb talks about parallels with Buffy and Mac is a great role model: strong, brave, compassionate, and loyal. Her instinct is always to protect those she loves from her truths and realities, even when her mother betrays her. I think there are similarities with Katniss Everdeen too although I much prefer Mac. Her decision, and the rationale behind it, at the end of the second book is intriguing and one that shows what a worthy heroine she has become.
Would I recommend it?
As one of the (probably very few) YA enthusiasts who hadn’t read any VE Schwab before, I had no expectations. The Archive deals with Mac’s acceptance of and challenges to her role as a Keeper. The Unbound expands on this with both her journey, Wesley’s and Owen’s. And an exploration of the masks that we all wear, both to protect ourselves and others. Of the two books, I preferred the second, which has more plot and character development. And a good teaser at the end because what Mac decides to do with her acquired knowledge is left open, but not in an unsatisfying way.
I’ve said it before, I think YA writing often tackles issues in a far more accessible, imaginative, and immediate way than a lot of adult fiction. This collection of stories is no exception and I think any YA fan would love them, whether or not you’re a VE Schwab afficianado.
Thank you so much to Titan Books for organising a copy of The Dark Vault for me to review. As you can probably guess, I loved my introduction to VE Schwab, and I’m definitely going to be reading all of her other novels now!
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