Archivist Wasp begins like a gunshot—it shoots out of the barrel and it’s aimed right at the reader. Be prepared not to sleep much once you pick it up.
The reader begins the story as disoriented and confused as Wasp seems to be in the ring, fighting for her life and to maintain her title as Archivist in a fight to the death. However, this year, her third year, she makes the decision not to kill her final opponent. Fed up, she walks away and hopes for things to be different. A few weeks later, once Wasp has healed sufficiently from her wounds, the Catchkeep Priest returns to her once she’s healed to inform her that the upstart has died, despite her intentions.
So the Archivist, “Catchkeep’s emissary, ambassador and avatar on Earth,” who fights and eliminates her competition annually, who is the ONLY person that can catch and interrogate ghosts, the strongest and (arguably) most intelligent member of society is also the most powerless against an abusive Priest. Wasp is a living God, yet shunned and hated by society. She lives in poverty on the outskirts of town. She is everything and she is nothing. She is the Priest’s puppet to do as he wishes and is powerless to stop him. There is a real dichotomy in power and who should be carrying it. Wasp is a bystander of her life at the beginning of this novel. I would have loved to continue to explore her bucking against the system and trying to bring it into alignment with her goals.
As an Archivist, Wasp is entrusted to recreating the end of the world (which society knows surprisingly little about) by interrogating captured ghosts and pulling any wisps of memories that they might have and recording everything she finds in her journals. Archivists have been in existence for over 400 years and they are not very far along in their hunt. They pass their information from generation to generation in the form of journals.
Things take a sharp left turn for both Wasp and the reader when she runs across a ghost that actually attempts to communicate with her. Ghosts can definitely be difficult to communicate with, but it is unheard of that they actually recognize anything living around them. This Ghost, who does not even know its name, convinces Wasp to travel to the Underworld with him to find his eons-ago long lost partner. Thus begins a 100-age aside about the myth of Orpheus & Eurydice. Instead of being a spectator to the action, Wasp blossoms in the Underworld by seeing and being the action. But it doesn’t involve her as a player, but as a passive vessel to tell other ghosts’ stories. It’s an interesting approach, but we lose so much of Wasp to build the history between the Ghost and his past partner. Oftentimes, I felt as disoriented as I did in the first pages of the novel, fluctuating between waiting for the story to pass so I could focus on Wasp again, or extremely interested in finding the history that Wasp is in charge of finding.
Nevertheless, the story within a story didn’t hold my interest very well and I felt that Wasp’s earlier narrative was diluted by this secondary story. I have to give Kornher-Stace credit for her narrative risk. It takes guts to just walk away from the story you set-up in a 100 pages to focus on something and someone else. She turned a solo upstart story into a partner cut-up midway through the book and while that is crazy to write down, I have to admit it worked. She managed to create two compelling worlds, intertwined and overlapped and managed to complement each other.
I’d like to mention that even though we were mired in another world for a large portion of this book, where Wasp was literally a book being held open, once the story refocused on Wasp, I was completely immersed. She gets her moment in the sun and I was thrilled with the ending itself and how it played out. So, SO satisfying!
Finally, I felt great relief at the end. Because even though it’s an estimated 4-hour read at 268 pages, it took me a week to read.
A solid 3 out of 5 star review from me.
Oh, and I can’t get confirmation, but several book reviewers have stated that another book might be in the works for a series? This is a stand-alone, but I wouldn’t mind a further examination of the world and how it came to be.