Dystopian, Science Fiction
by: M.D. Waters
While The Hunger Games certainly exploded the dystopian market, that doesn’t mean that the current craze for abusive and controlling governments has made for a host of good literature. Newer entries into the adult market have owed a huge debt to their young adult predecessors, rather than to Huxley, Orwell, Bradbury, and many others who pioneered the genre. Now, while I like a good young adult dystopian from time to time, it’s reaching grasp into the adult market has led to me wishing for something meatier. Archetype delivers that while at the same time making more nods to Atwood than to Collins.
Emma wakes in a hospital, with no memory of what came before. Her husband, Declan, a powerful, seductive man, provides her with new memories, but her dreams contradict his stories, showing her a past life she can’t believe possible: memories of war, of a camp where girls are trained to be wives, of love for another man. Something inside her tells her not to speak of this, but she does not know why. She only knows she is at war with herself. Suppressing those dreams during daylight hours, Emma lets Declan mold her into a happily married woman and begins to fall in love with him. But the day Noah stands before her, the line between her reality and dreams shatters. In a future where women are a rare commodity, Emma fights for freedom but is held captive by the love of two men—one her husband, the other her worst enemy. If only she could remember which is which. . . .
I never go into debut novels with high expectations. Sometimes I’m richly rewarded for taking a gamble, and sometimes I’m deeply disappointed. M.D. Waters blew me away. While Archteype is not a perfect book, it shows a sophistication in writing that is far from common. So much so, that Waters has made this a really hard review to write.
Normally, I might start off a review talking about how bad the publisher blurb is and given you a new brief summary of the book. Except that if I do that here, I will destroy the simply magnificent work Waters does of giving the reader just enough information to keep going without letting them figure anything out. Her pacing here is fantastic, and it floored me to see it come from a debut author. As we follow Emma through the book, the information she gathers happens somewhat organically, doesn’t take us off guard, and makes more and more sense as the book goes along. But Waters never gives us so much at once that I could “Ah, well, there we go then. I understand the whole book, and I still have a third of it to go. That’s disappointing.”
I also enjoyed that this book isn’t a post apocalyptic work in the sense that civilization has collapsed and technological advancement has stopped. While there is a severe fertility crisis that is fueling the conflict around Emma, it’s driving science and technology (particularly in biomed) forward, and this becomes a central theme of the book. That being said, I can’t quite bring myself to call this work hard science fiction, as the core explanations of the technology aren’t there. These technologies aren’t quite explained away by ‘magic hand’ as they have clear basis in our present day technology, but there also isn’t the emphasis on these technologies that I would expect in hard science fiction. While I could wish for more exploration in this area to further set the work apart, in the end it might not work overall as the protagonist/narrator isn’t a scientist.
My one complaint about Archetype would be that the conflict between Emma, Declan, and Noah is a bit too much of a soap opera. Here the age old love triangle is hard at work, though I do applaud Emma’s decision in this arena at the end of the book as it’s a well supported and mature reaction to what’s happened to her. I feel that Waters could have put less emphasis on this overall arc and more on other parts of Emma’s internal conflicts. In so many ways, you could simplify this book as Emma’s choice between Declan and Noah, and that’s unfortunate. One, the feminist in me likes books where choices can’t be boiled down to ‘what mate should the protagonist choose’ and two, there’s so much more to Emma’s conflict with both of these men than simply who to sleep with. Declan and Noah represent two very different paths for humanity to take out of the fertility crisis it’s in, and perhaps the book would have been better served without having them be the figureheads for those paths in this story.
However, even with it’s flaws, I was hooked by this book from beginning to end. I really did not want to put it down, and it kept its hooks in me long after I had turned over the final page. I can promise you that in the next few months you’ll be seeing a review from me of Archetype’s sequel, Prototype, due out next month. I don’t think there’s much higher praise than that.