Archivist Wasp, by Nicole Kornher-Stace

>> Saturday, February 06, 2016

TITLE: Archivist Wasp
AUTHOR: Nicole Kornher-Stace

PAGES: 256
PUBLISHER: Big Mouth House

SETTING: Alternate reality
TYPE: Fantasy

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.
Archivist Wasp is set in a sort of post-apocalyptic world, in a village where a tradition has developed of 'archivists'. The archivist's mission is to find out and record whatever she can about the world of the past, the world whose ruins her people see all around them. The main resource for this are the ghosts that roam the place. The archivists both protects the townspeople from any aggressive ghosts and gleans all possible information from them (what are they wearing? what words are they repeating? what can they deduce about how they died, and what does this tell them about the past?), before destroying them. The holy grail is to find a ghost that can actually communicate with archivists and answer questions, but that hasn’t happened yet in all the centuries archivists have been at it.

You would think the archivist's job is a low-key, repetitive one, but in this place, it’s not. It’s part of the cult of a deity called Catchkeep, and Catchkeep’s rituals are brutal. The Catchkeep-priest presides over and trains a group of young women called upstarts, who every three years challenge the incumbent archivist in a fight to the death, aiming to take her post.

And we start right in the middle of one of those challenges. Archivist Wasp is tired. She’s done this a few times already, and she’s sick of it, sick of killing upstarts, sick of the tyranny of the Catchkeep-priest, sick of the constant destroying of ghosts. She’s tried to run away a few times, but the priest always catches her, and the punishment is brutal.

But after the last fight she comes across a ghost like no other she’s ever seen. This ghost is powerful. He can talk to her just fine, and not just talk, but negotiate. And before long, Wasp and the ghost have made a deal. She’ll come with him and help him find a lost companion, and in exchange, he’ll give her an object that should allow her to escape. Together, they will travel through the world of ghosts, which presents not just dangers, but dangerous knowledge.

The first word that comes to mind when I think about this book is 'inventive'. I’m not sure how much I believe of this world, how much sense it makes (well, it makes more sense at the end, after we’ve learnt more about how the archivist rituals came to be, than it makes at the start), but it’s super fresh and original and things kept surprising me, and that's not something that happens that often these days. I liked it.

There’s a lot of action and some of it feels episodic, but really, the focus is on characters. We get to know Wasp very well and understand her, and through her travels through the ghost’s memories, we find out more about the world before the collapse (which includes genetically modified supersoldiers and civil war and was pretty cool to find out about).

The key relationship, and this was a surprise to me, wasn’t between the ghost and Wasp, but between the ghost and the friend he’s looking for. I liked that there are no romantic relationships here. Rather, it’s about friendship and honour. And this follows onto the subversive, defiant ending, which I loved very much.

This is definitely one worth reading.

MY GRADE: A strong B.


Barb in Maryland 6 February 2016 at 22:45  

I am so glad you liked this, as it was one of my favorite books from last year. Everything about it worked for me. I even bought a copy for my keeper sh elf and immediately re-read it. (and then started nagging my friends to read it, as one does...)
I can't even pick a favorite scene--though the downfall of the Catchkeep priest is right up there along with the closing scene.
Ah, happy sighs...

Rosario 8 February 2016 at 09:41  

It was one of those books where you have no idea where things are going, and I find I'm increasingly appreciating that. :)

Victoria Janssen 9 February 2016 at 20:00  

I enjoyed this one a lot, though I did want more at the end.

Rosario 11 February 2016 at 06:41  

Victoria: I know what you mean, but I'd rather be left wanting more than hoping the book had ended earlier! :)

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