Monday, March 10, 2014

Archetype (M. D. Waters)

Thanks to NetGalley for the chance to read this novel in exchange for an honest review!

I am a fan of genre mash-ups. This much is true. I enjoy when authors take different elements and smash them up and then turn the mess into something spectacular. So when I heard about Archetype, I got excited. Sci-fi conspiracy thriller romance? Sure thing.

Emma wakes up in a hospital. She remembers nothing. She is introduced to a man, Declan Burke, who says that he is her husband and that she has suffered from a very serious accident. She is told she will stay in the hospital while she continues to recover. At night, Emma has strange nightmares, but she continues to rehabilitate and progress until she can return home.

We learn with Emma of the world she has woken up in: it's a future in which female fertility is low and being able to produce offspring is a marketable ability. Women are raised in training centers and sold to the highest bidder, marked with a symbol on their hand to show that they are a man's property. Declan promises that he didn't buy Emma, that he fell in love with her naturally; she is missing the hand brand that would mark her as his possession, so she believes him. Slowly, she falls in love with her husband, settling into married life.

But the longer the story goes on, the more memories surface while she sleeps. There's a bossy voice in her head that isn't hers, and she has a hard time reconciling what Declan tells her with her recollections of loving another man whose face she can't remember. So she starts to get suspicious that maybe something is...off.

Waters' novel is a lot of fun. Emma makes for an interesting character because she is so placid and submissive and trusting, but she has this angry other consciousness that chastises her and criticizes her choices. She's the kind of innocent that makes you want to slap her and hug her all at once because she's so foolish but so well-meaning. And then she starts to evolve, and quickly, and that character is just as wonderful. Declan, too, is a great character, because he is so perfect and loving but you can feel something sinister lurking, but he is so well-layered that it sneaks up on you.

The futuristic setting is engaging if mildly under-explained (one of my few criticisms of the book)--I already mentioned the dystopic female fertility camps, and there's teleportation and advanced medicine and it's all very neat. Thankfully, there's no moment when we have to endure a whole chapter devoted only to backstory (info-dumping is the worst); there are subtle moments of explanation when innocent Emma asks a question and receives an answer, but it would have been nice for a few more details.

But it's okay because the story is wow. It takes a while to get going, and once it does, it takes an unexpected turn. Archetype features the sort of action tale that turns pages all by itself, which is a blessing, and the writing isn't clunky. No dragging sequences here. And the very best part? It manages to be eventful and emotion-laden. There's a love triangle, sure, but the interesting twist in the narrative really starts to complicate Emma's relationships and asks questions about love that are very unsettling.

I said "fun" three paragraphs ago and I want to stick with that because that's a good indicator of a quality mash-up. What else could a story that sprinkles and romance and futuristic dystopian elements onto a conspiracy story be anything but fun? But it's more than fun, because there are very complex feelings running through the book that take a little longer to puzzle out. It's a two-part story, with the sequel Prototype coming out in July. I'm hooked. You will be, too.

My rating: 4.5/5
Archetype on Goodreads
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