The Archive of the Forgotten by A. J. Hackwith, a book review

Book Review: The Archive of the Forgotten by A. J. Hackwith

Book Review of The Archive of the Forgotten by A. J. Hackwith, a Novel from Hell's LibraryTitle: The Archive of the Forgotten

Author: A. J. Hackwith

Publisher: Ace-Berkley Publishing Group

Publication date: October 6, 2020

Genre: Fantasy

One Sentence Summary: When a puddle of ink mysteriously appears in the Arcane Wing, Arcanist Claire, Librarian Brevity, book character Hero, and fallen angel Ramiel attempt to solve the puzzle separately only to discover they might actually need each other.

I loved the first book, The Library of the Unwritten, so much and really couldn’t wait to dive into the next book. I was approved for this months ago, but had so many other books to read it was almost like sitting on pins and needles every time I saw it on my Kindle. All the little quibbles I had with the first book, with how it started off kind of slow and the characters felt a little too living, were gone. The Archive of the Forgotten kind of just dumps you into the story and, since most of it takes place in Hell, it’s easier to remember the human Claire is, in fact, dead. Overall, a worthy follow up to the first book, and I now can’t wait for the third book.

The Plot: The Puzzling Ink

Since the events of The Library of the Unwritten, Claire has been installed as the new curator of the Arcane Wing and Brevity has become the librarian in the Unwritten Wing. But their relationship has been tenuous at best, with both women avoiding the other. The same doesn’t hold true for their assistants Rami and Hero, respectively. Nor for one damsel from the Unwritten Wing.

When Claire discovers damsel Rosia, yet again, in the Arcane Wing, it brings Claire and Brevity back together, but on shaky ground that doesn’t improve when Rosia vanishes and a well of ink forms in the Arcane Wing. The Arcanist believes it’s her problem to solve since it’s in her Wing, but the Librarian argues it’s the blood of the books that were burned during Andras’s coup attempt. As they stubbornly diverge to do their own testing, it’s up to Ramiel and Hero to leave Hell and ask questions. Only for things to get a lot worse and potentially leave the Library in terrible danger.

Where The Library of the Unwritten felt massive and far flung as the characters tumbled from one death realm to another, The Archive of the Forgotten shrinks the world down almost to a dot. After a crazy journey in the first book, the second book feels almost grounded and focused, allowing the characters to breathe, grow, and find their footing with each other now that their roles have shifted. As much as I loved exploring all the death realms in the first book, it also made me want to just sit still and enjoy a quieter story. The Archive of the Forgotten absolutely delivered on that front, though there was a point where I felt like it would be more of the same.

The Archive of the Forgotten is a beautiful follow-up to the first book. The problem starts very early on and the story goes on to brilliantly explore the natures of Claire and Brevity as they work independently. It’s not really plot heavy, but the problem is absolutely a wonderful device to help the characters along their paths. The story is simple, but the characters are not, and that’s where all the fun is.

The Characters: An Unlikely Family

The Archive of the Forgotten focuses on the characters instead of the story and world building. After a crazy journey in the first book that beautifully set up the world, I like that the second book focused on the characters and more fully explored them as individuals and as a strange and unlikely family.

Claire, Brevity, Hero, and Rami were all wonderful in the first book and somehow became even better in the second book. Claire is still unbending and unyielding. Brevity is still a little too bright and hopeful, and maybe even a little too nice, for Hell. Hero is still smug and annoying as a hero-villain. Rami is still the lost angel who sticks to right and wrong. But, as the story progressed, they lost a little bit of their outer coatings. They started to grow in different ways, but somehow also closer together. It hurt a little to see them crack, but it made them stronger together. They became something of a family as they tried to solve their problem in their own ways and avoid each other. They became softly blurred from the rigidity they bore in the first book and their relationships changed and were further defined while also leaving room for more growth and closer bonds. It was beautiful watching them snip at each other while also genuinely caring about each other.

The Archive of the Forgotten also introduces one major new character. Probity is one of Brevity’s sister muses, someone who grew up alongside Brevity and who has her own ideas of what the muses can and should be capable of doing. Her ideas aren’t too different from Brevity’s, but it’s her manner and the way she so steadfastly believes she’s right that sets her off. I liked and hated her in turns, but she pushed Brevity to really come into her own, so it’s also hard to not like her just for that.

The Setting: It’s Hell

Unlike the first book, The Archive of the Forgotten is set mostly in Hell. After exploring so many different death realms, I wasn’t sure what to expect in this book: more death realms or something more settled. I was pleased that it presented a delightful blend of both. There’s some death realm exploring, which was fun and very different while also exploring other mythologies a bit, but most of the story is grounded in Hell.

It was lovely to return to the Unwritten Wing and have the opportunity to explore the Arcane Wing, which, frankly, scares me a bit. We also get to explore a new part of the Library, which was mostly unsettling, but leaves me curious to know more about it. As well as what else the Library has been hiding. I loved that this book hinted at further questions about what the Library is, so I’m hoping there’s even more world building as the series progresses. I love how Hackwith balanced the development of the story, world, and characters so it’s never too much and only helps drive the story forward.

Overall: A Worthy Sequel, Albeit a Bit Different

The Archive of the Forgotten is a lovely follow up to the first book. I loved how different it was in that the characters weren’t tumbling around between Earth and the death realms, but were able to catch their breath, so to speak, and learn more about each other and themselves. It felt like a nice respite both for them and the reader, one where the focus can shift a little and add an anchor to the overall story. A wonderful contrast. I do wonder if the next book will be just as breathlessly active as the first or if it’ll strike a nice balance, but I really loved how grounded this novel felt. The characters were just as wonderful, and then became even better. I loved watching them pull and push at each other and can’t wait to see them again.

Great if you enjoy: character-driven, books about libraries, books where the story takes a backseat, great character development, LGBT relationships, fantasy

Not great if you’re looking for: action-packed, plot-driven, exploration of more death realms

How many cups of tea will you need?

5 cups, please

Get your copy (The Lily Cafe is NOT an Amazon affiliate)

Thank you to Netgalley and Ace-Berkley Publishing Group for a free e-copy. All opinions expressed are my own.

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2 Comments

  • Samantha

    Love your review! I didn’t think of it in the fact that the characters got a respite from the crazy above-world activities of the first book, but that is a really insightful perspective. Seeing all of the deepening relationships was lovely. Happy reading 🙂

    • kat

      Thank you so much! I loved all the crazy realm hopping, so it made the second book feel a little stagnant until I realized it felt like a nice breather and the characters just became so much more fascinating.

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