Published by Big Mouth House on May 5, 2015
Genres: dystopian, paranormal, science fiction
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Wasp's job is simple. Hunt ghosts. And every year she has to fight to remain Archivist. Desperate and alone, she strikes a bargain with the ghost of a supersoldier. She will go with him on his underworld hunt for the long-long ghost of his partner and in exchange she will find out more about his pre-apocalyptic world than any Archivist before her. And there is much to know. After all, Archivists are marked from birth to do the holy work of a goddess. They're chosen. They're special. Or so they've been told for four hundred years.
Archivist Wasp fears she is not the chosen one, that she won't survive the trip to the underworld, that the brutal life she has escaped might be better than where she is going. There is only one way to find out.
This is the story of a girl lost in a lonely, desolate, and bare world; and a girl lost in herself. Wasp is an Archivist, one of a handful of girls selected from a young age to serve in a religious order where she must capture ghosts, learn what she can from them about their lives in the world Before and then dispatch them. It is a good thing to finish them eternally, or so she has been trained to think. Wasp must also battle to the death for her title every year. There is a line of upstarts looking to become Archivist themselves, and it is also how she herself took the title. She wears the braids of the Archivist before her and of all the upstarts who have challenged her in her own hair. It’s a fierce and brutal world our Wasp inhabits.
This is a girl who is kick-ass, both inside and out. She’s a survivor in a world designed to tear her down (literally, though). Wasp has had to fight many battles, but she also battles internally to keep the core sense of herself as a good and decent person. And there is a sense of the potential of epicness that echoes through the landscape of this empty world. It is a world that is haunting and spare and practically yearning to be filled with its lost details.
The vast majority of ghosts barely have any form and most can’t muster more than a handful of words. The futility of Wasp’s endless endeavors is a massive burden. When she discovers a ghost both fully formed and fully sentient it is a chance unlike any presented to her before. The ghost is on a centuries-long search to find his missing combat partner. If Wasp will lend her ghost tracking abilities, this ghost will trade her a valuable piece of technology that would allow Wasp to escape her cultish captors. And so Wasp leaves her body behind and descends into the underworld.
It is absolutely a Dante-like journey and there are nods to many fantasy and science fiction stories that have come before, particularly The Subtle Knife. But this is not a predictable story. The underworld is a dream-like scape where everything is topsy-turvy and the weights and regrets of our lives become monsters made real. We also get insights into the past via Wasp’s ability to see into the ghost’s memories. The book takes on a sci-fi/dystopian bent as we get to see the ghost’s journey in a futuristic city embattled in civil war and on the verge of collapse.
This is one that will be most compelling for the character reader. Don’t get me wrong, there are moments of breathless suspense and there is much dystopian intrigue. Yet the bulk of the novel is carried on the shoulders of Wasp and her ghost. Told in lean third person, we understand Wasp, but the motivations of her ghost are much less clear. There is so much to be said about the relationship that develops between Wasp and the ghost. This is a novel that is, at essence, a reflection on memory. What memory means in the context of the long span of history. What memory means to an individual person in the context of their self. The ghost has lost vast swaths of his memories, he can’t even recollect his own name. Yet his humanity is still vibrant. It gives much food for thought.
I cannot help but love this novel perhaps for no other reason than that it has given me a masterful friendship to ship. In fact, this may be one of the rare YA novels that doesn’t feature a romance at all. (This can be argued since the exact relationship between the ghost and his partner isn’t made clear to be romantic, but it is epicly deep) I am a person who adores romantic subplots, but I have to admit that in this book, in this story, it was wise to leave romance out. This is one that should be held up as a prime example that you can do YA without romance. That there can be wholly affecting relationships in YA literature that are not necessarily romantic.
There were several aspects of Wasp’s world that could have been more fully fleshed out. Especially by the end I was frustrated by how many questions hadn’t been answered. I wanted to know more about how our world became the ghost’s world and how that world became Wasp’s. How did the religion that holds Wasp captive come to be? But still, the ending was such a beautiful culmination of all the emotional promise of this novel.
Archivist Wasp is a compellingly original entry into the YA dystopian genre. Beautifully spare in its prose, but rich in emotion, this one is a gem that should not be overlooked. This is that rare and beautiful novel that would well reward a re-read. As of now it is a standalone (and it does wrap up beautifully) but I would eagerly and gratefully accept the chance to dive back into Wasp’s world.