Publisher: Dutton Books
Year: 2014 (6 February)
Source: Review copy
Emma awakes in a hospital bed. She has no memories at all. She cannot even remember the man who leans over her, tells her that she’s been in an accident, that he loves her, that she is his wife. She is tied down – to protect herself – and subjected to numerous tests until Emma finally begins to accept that the man, Declan, is her husband and that she is falling in love with him. He courts her all over again, very slowly reintroducing her to their beautiful home, encouraging her to paint, while guiding her through this unfamiliar world of transporter tubes, rooms with wondrous, holographic displays, even highly evolved monitoring systems. For this is the future. A time when America has been divided into two by war, when women are few and mostly infertile and when young girls are enclosed in WTCs (Women’s Training Centers) until a suitable husband is found to claim them and, hopefully, impregnate them.
Written in the first person, Archetype gives us Emma’s journey to self-awareness in her own words. Matters are complicated, though, by another voice in her head. Someone that Emma identifies as ‘Her’ tells Emma to fight back, not to accept Declan and to remember the people who suffered for her. Flashbacks and dreams are scattered throughout, frightening Emma with nightmares, showing her the faces of strangers who seem to know Emma more than she knows herself. And when one of them turns up, the pace of Emma’s ‘recovery’ quickens and the walls begin to close in.
Archetype is the first of two novels (the second is Prototype published this summer) but it is a complete story in itself. The heart of the novel belongs firmly to Emma and Declan and so it’s these two characters that we get to know more than anyone else. Of course, how well we know these two is strictly limited due to the darkness that covers Emma’s memories. But I greatly enjoyed these two portraits – one a self-portrait and the other glimpsed through shadows. The other characters, though, are far harder to empathise with or to picture. They remain vague.
Likewise, the futuristic world is never fully realised for the reader. The transporter tubes seem fantastically advanced but other areas of life aren’t. It’s difficult to picture the world because mostly we see only the insides of rooms. The little we see of the WTCs is fascinating but they are brief glimpses, or dreams. Throughout much of the novel, I wanted to know more – just like Emma. But the chapters set in the hospital are claustrophobic and compelling – it is is an oppressive place and this is strongly reflected in Emma’s narration.
Much of the novel is full of Emma’s questioning – of herself and of those around her. She is caught in a maze and is frustrated that nothing is revealed to her on her own terms. One side-effect of this is that the pace is lost towards the middle of the book. It feels like we are going round in circles and it’s possible that the reader could feel as frustrated as Emma. However, once other characters from the dreams are introduced into Emma’s waking day then the drama moves quickly onwards and the conclusion is hugely thrilling and memorable.
In places Archetype reads like a Young Adult novel but the sexual scenes are graphic enough (although few in number) to suggest otherwise. Its themes of marriage and fertility also indicate it’s targeted towards an older readership but I think that older teens would enjoy Archetype a great deal.
I’m excited to see how Prototype will pick up the threads of Archetype. The clues are there at the end of this first book but it’s quite possible that Prototype will be a different type of book entirely, with Emma free to pursue her own destiny, discovering her own power for change. Archetype is a fine first novel with an intriguing and immensely likeable heroine and it sets the stage perfectly for what I hope is to come.