Archivist Wasp by Nicole Kornher-Stace
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
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.
“I am the Archivist. Catchkeep’s emissary, ambassador, and avatar on earth. Her bones and stars my flesh; my flesh and bones Her stars. Mine is the mouth through which the dead world speaks. Mine are the hands that record what the dead world left behind. Mine are the eyes that hold vigil, so that the old world’s death does not return to kill the world anew.”
Wow. What an unexpected, beautiful, strange, unique, imaginative story this was. For most of it, I felt a lot like Alice must have in Wonderland.
The main character, Wasp, is an Archivist, the goddess Catchkeep’s human embodiment. Or so she’s been raised to believe. Her job in the post apocalyptic wasteland this book drops you into is capturing, studying, and killing ghosts in an attempt to learn something from them about the Time Before and how it was destroyed.
The world Wasp introduces you to is brutal, and so is she. It opens with her murdering a trio of girls called Upstarts, something she’s forced to do every year if she wants to remain the Archivist, for there can only be one. She’s respected, shunned, hated, and feared in equal measure by everyone else around her. The only company she keeps is the girls who want to kill her and take her place, the Catchkeep priest who lives to torment her, and the ghosts she hunts.
After four hundred years of former Archivists learning nothing from their prey, she manages to come upon a ghost stronger than any other she’s ever encountered. What’s more impressive, this one can speak. Something she once thought impossible.
The ghost is that of a long-dead, genetically engineered super-soldier. He comes from the Time Before, and tempted by the knowledge he possesses and the seemingly magical technology he holds, she agrees to help him look for his former partner. Only, to do so, they must descend into the underworld.
I feel like I should mention up front that this book is definitely not going to be for everyone. There is very little world building in the beginning, and only around the 50% mark do you begin to get any answers to the innumerable questions you’ll be asking by that point.
Reading it was a lot like being caught up in a fever dream. The realm of ghosts is chaotic and disjointed; one scene might take place in a snowy field, and then Wasp and the ghost of the soldier stumble upon a rusted metal door set into the ground. They open it and climb down into a room full of dead ghosts. Then climb back up and open that same door and step into the bottom of a sea. There is little rhyme or reason to the things Wasp sees while there:
“She looked down to find the ground composed of countless objects that looked like wide flat pebbles made of metal. She picked one up. A locket. If it once had an engraving, it had long since eroded to a smudge. She popped the catch with a thumbnail. The hinge had rusted and the whole front snapped off. Inside was a spider crouching on an apple seed.”
That said, anyone with an open mind looking for something different should give this a try. Pick it up when you get fed up with the over-used themes and tropes in your favorite genre, and this book will seem like a breath of fresh air.
It’s as beautiful as it is macabre, as poetic as it is tragic, and as unforgettable as it is unputdownable.