Archivist Wasp has just survived her third annual Archivist-choosing day and her wounds (she is getting slow) are still fresh, but healing. This timeArchivist Wasp has just survived her third annual Archivist-choosing day and her wounds (she is getting slow) are still fresh, but healing. This time though, she chose to let the last of the upstarts she fought, live. Maybe things will be different this year, she thinks.
The upstart dies anyway.
The Catchkeep-priest makes sure to tell Wasp that, after he steals some of her food, as he twists yet another psychological knife on her side.
But life goes on, and Wasp has another year before the next round of upstarts will fight her in a deadly match in order to become the next Archivist. Another year of this so-called life. Maybe she will finally find a way out. Maybe today will be different.
And it is.
For the past four hundred years, the Archivist is the one chosen by the Goddess Catchkeep to undertake the special mission of capturing, interrogating and dispatching ghosts. The task is to learn about the ghosts’ past, hoping to jog their memories or see anything – anything at all – in their demeanour that will explain why, when or how the world ended.
But as the accurately kept records of previous Archivists attest, ghosts don’t speak. No one knows anything.
I don’t even know where to begin telling you how much this book rocks. I loved many, MANY books this year but this one is maybe the one I wish to hand-sell the most. Word-of-mouth, please work, let more people read this.
What makes me so excited about Archivist Wasp? SO MANY THINGS.
It’s set in a bleak, primitive, post-apocalyptic world where no one knows how the world ended. It’s the Archivist’s job to find out through note-taking and the questioning of ghosts. Not that that has shown any results in the past 400 years. Why do they keep the charade? Hope is a bitch, I guess. So are the dynamics of power and who really wields it.
Wasp has been told all her life that she is unique. Essential. That no one can do the job she does, that the goddess Catchkeep is looking after her. Despite this, the Archivist is a dreaded figure, a shunned member of society, living in the outskirts with only the bare essentials, depending on the charity of strangers to sustain herself. She has to fight for her life every year against young, upstarts who have all been branded as children by the Goddess and who live close to squalor. Meanwhile, the priest dude has all the comfort and takes special care to make their lives 100000 times more miserable. The Archivist is told many times she is the chosen one. Yet the duress of her life contradicts this statement on a daily basis.
When Wasp meets the ghost of a supersoldier who can talk to her and who engages her help to find another ghost, someone he might have been looking for, everything she thinks she knows will crumble down like a flimsy castle of cards.
Please note the word “might” used above because the ghost doesn’t quite remember: the older a ghost is, the least he remembers. He doesn’t even know his own name.
And here is what happens next: a buddy trip to the underworld! All of a sudden, the book morphs beautifully into something else. A Quest, a Voyage to the Underworld with a bonus trip down memory lane. Literary. Through the ghost and as an Archivist, Wasp is able to connect with the ghost of the woman they are looking for. More to the point, she is able to access her memories. This aspect of the novel really reminded me one of my favourite Fantasy series – the Dogsland trilogy by J. M. McDermott, by the way. And it’s one of my favourite narrative approaches because in this case, just like in Dogsland, it adds a different layer to the story, two narratives in one, two tales in one, two characters juxtaposed, different and yet not.
But Wasp needs to remember something else first as the entrance ticked to the underworld is to recover one of her own memories.
Oh, this moment. YOU GUYS, THIS MOMENT. Have you read Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein? Remember when we learn the name of the main character and how the significance of that reverberates throughout? Because it’s a question of knowing, of identity, of self. And this is at the centre of Archivist Wasp.
But also, friendship, partnership, alliances. Between the Ghost and his partner, lost to the memory of eons past. Between the Ghost and Wasp, a slow building friendship without any signs of romance whatsoever, that is painful to read and oh, so beautiful. Because it’s tense. Because it’s desperate. Because it matters so much for both of them.
It ends with the actualisation of the revenge fantasy of my dreams. This is very important to me because from the opening pages there is a character – the priest – whom I completely and utterly DESPISED. The ending is amazing in the way that he gets what he deserves. But not in the way I expected. BETTER. Because now the story becomes clear for what it is: a story about agency, freedom and revolution. All of sudden, this book Mad-Max-Fury-Roaded me, like a boss.
SO! Incredible characters – fleshed-out, human, complicated: check. Beautiful writing: check. Plot that develops like it was written for me: check. A cool mixture of Fantasy and Science Fiction, because ghosts but also super-soldiers: check and check.
Reminiscent of everything I love but completely its own thing, a SF YA like I haven’t read in a while, Archivist Wasp is a book I will treasure.
Now, you might be asking yourself: is this yet another 10-rated book for 2015 from The Book Smugglers? WHY, YES. YES IT IS....more
Maggie Cunningham isn’t your typical teenager. Daughter of a single parent, Maggie spends her days honing her skills to become a full-fledged hunter lMaggie Cunningham isn’t your typical teenager. Daughter of a single parent, Maggie spends her days honing her skills to become a full-fledged hunter like her mom, Janice – that means homeschooling, with major emphasis on supernatural ass-kicking, and a minor in creative and quippy profanities whilst kicking said supernatural ass. There’s just one tiny problem in Maggie’s awesome life – in order to become a journeyman and complete the next step of her Hunter-in-training status, she’s gonna have to have The Sex.
That’s right: The Sex.
See, there’s something special about virgins that drives vampires batty (bad pun intended). Virgin, untainted blood is a powerful vintage – and wannabe hunters who walk around boasting that virgin blood are liable to get bitten and killed very quickly. If Maggie wants to graduate from level 1 and 2 jobs with her mom, she has to give up the V – the only problem is she doesn’t really know any dudes, let alone how to date them. With her best friend Janice’s help with the hookup, Maggie prepares herself for her most baffling, ridiculous, and terrifying job yet.
The Awesome is Eva Darrows’ first novel under that pseudonym – Darrows is also Hillary Monahan, author of The Summoning (another YA horror/supernatural book I read and enjoyed, and also boasts some similarities to The Awesome which I’ll get to shortly). And The Awesome is both awesomely packaged (the first edition of this book is gorgeous) and awesome in terms of character building and voice. Easily, the best part about this book is its heroine, the (rightly) self-proclaimed eponymous Awesome, Maggie. Quippy, witty, with as many snarky non-sequiturs as a Diablo Cody movie character, Maggie protects herself from monsters, disappointment and other would-be hurts with words and a badass attitude. She knows how to fight, how to stitch or glue up someone’s torn back, she knows to listen and keep her head down and react instead of overthink things when death is on the line. She also, secretly and maybe subconsciously, worries about her mother and their relationship, about being a “regular” teenage girl, and about how to go about getting The Sex to happen. In short: I love Maggie’s voice. While she does have the tendency to overdo it with the nonstop snark (in the tradition of great UF heroines for all ages), I love that she’s actually not jaded or world-weary. Maggie talks a big talk but her insecurities and vulnerability emerge, particularly regarding her relationship with her mother, with her friend Julie, and her relationship with Ian, which rings as incredibly genuine and natural. More than that, I love that for all of Maggie’s insecurities and fears, especially where Ian and Janice are concerned, Maggie always remembers one central truth: she knows that she is awesome.
For every bit as much as I loved Maggie in this book, I also loved the relationship between Maggie and her mother, Janice. This is not a traditional mother as superior relationship; the pair are incredibly close, and while their relationship can be strained because of Janice’s Hunter lifestyle (not to mention her choice to dance around in underwear, her open frankness when it comes to sexuality, and her fashion choices), the mother and daughter are a team. The respect is mutual in this relationship, and it is utterly fantastic to read the support and love between Janice and Maggie in The Awesome (as well as the snark and the many profanities the duo exchange).
Other things that were, well, awesome: Maggie’s depiction of the first time having sex from a teenage female perspective, drunken hookups and the aftermath of a house party, the awkwardness of navigating the ‘are we dating now what is this?’ waters. All of this stuff reads beautifully and Darrows nails it, especially the insecurities and things a lot of girls think of after their first time. I LOVE that sex isn’t something to be ashamed of here, and that Maggie’s mother is supportive, and that Maggie herself takes ownership of her choices with regards to her body and sexuality, and that there isn’t a weird judgement speech equating sex as having no self-respect. This is awesome, positive and powerful as a message.
Also awesome: the magical rules and worldbuilding of The Sex. The idea of magic being linked to sexuality and virginity isn’t a new thing in fiction; I remember reading and enjoying Diana Peterfreund’s Unicorn Hunter books, in which heroines are hunters of killer unicorns until they lose the V card… but being incredibly disappointed with the loopholes in those magical rules in that series, particularly when it comes to same-sex relationships. I’m very happy to say that The Aweseome deals away with some of that weird magical loophole homophobia – the rule for The Sex here is skin on skin penetration and completion. (Janice describes how this process works for lesbian hunters to Maggie when she asks.)
For all the good things in the story, however, there are some not so awesome parts: particularly when it comes to plot holes and overall packing/lack of story development. The AwesomeThe Awesome, and nothing really takes off here until the book’s final act, and the vampire drama is kind of unimportant window dressing. There are also plenty of unresolved plot holes and questions: who the heck is Jeff and why is he such a powerful vampire? What the heck happened to Laura and why is she such an unusual zombie (also what is her purpose in this story)? Why could Maggie smell certain things like Laura’s grave rot initially but can’t anymore (virginity magic)? Plenty of little and not-so-little things are frustratingly open-ended in The Awesome, which makes me think this is book 1 in a planned series.
Ultimately, though, The Awesome isn’t so much about the action as it is about a teenage girl learning how to balance her family expectation, friends, and social life. With monsters.
Fast-paced, fun, and snarkalicious, I enjoyed The Awesome very much. And I absolutely recommend it, especially to anyone looking for a sweet new urban fantasy novel from a kickass teen point of view....more
"There are many ways to catch a ghost sitting in the body of a loved one. Basic questions – name, age, father’s name, mother’s name, university – can"There are many ways to catch a ghost sitting in the body of a loved one. Basic questions – name, age, father’s name, mother’s name, university – can be answered by any well-informed inhabitant, but it takes a matter of minutes to probe a little deeper."
Kepler is a ghost. Kepler is a thief. And Kepler has worn many, many lives.
Once, Kepler had a name and a body – but at the point of violent death so many centuries ago on the streets of London, Kepler is one of the few souls that takes solace in the names and bodies of others. Like other so-called ghosts, one touch of the flesh, and Kepler assumes a host’s identity – their bodies, their time, their lives.
And Kepler has stolen many, many lives.
Over the years, Kepler has been a medical student and a prominent politician; a prostitute and a model. Kepler has been young, beautiful, elderly, male, female, healthy, and diseased. Kepler has taken bodies by force and with the willing consent of its host – in Kepler’s latest incarnation, the host is a willing young woman named Josephine, with a hard past. But on the crowded platform of a train station, Josephine is shot twice in the chest, once in the leg, with bullets meant to kill the ghost. An assassin is hunting Kepler and Kepler’s kind – an organization bent on eradicating ghosts, with detailed dossiers on the lives Kepler has assumed… and the supposed murders that Kepler has committed.
On the run, desperate for answers, for justice for Josephine, for the right to live, Kepler tracks down its hunters – and finds that nothing is what it seems.
“I walk through people’s lives and I steal what I find. Their bodies, their time, their money, their friends, their lovers, their wives—I’ll take it all, if I want to."
Thought-provoking. Existential. Poignant. These are all words that describe Claire North’s luminescent Touch. This is the second novel from North (a pseudonym for author Catherine Webb, who also writes urban fantasy under the name Kate Griffin), following her incredibly well-received and much-loved 2014 book The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August. Like Harry August, Touch‘s Kepler is an immortal, unique protagonist – and it is largely because of Touch‘s protagonist that the novel truly works.
I was drawn to Touch because of the novel’s premise – the idea of an untethered soul, jumping and stealing the consciousness of any body is fascinating and comes loaded with important, complex questions of free will, identity, and the fundamental essence of self. It’s not a new conceit or a particularly unique one – from vampires, to demonic possession, to body-snatching aliens, North employs familiar horror tropes here.1 But Touch stands out because of its careful, beautiful prose, and its cautious, monstrous, yet wholly sympathetic protagonist.
"You must travel light when you wear another’s skin. Everything you own belongs to someone else. Everything you value you must leave behind. It is not I who made a family. It is not I who have a home. It is someone else, whose face I borrowed for a little while, whose life I lived and who now may live the life I lived as I move on."
Let’s talk about Kepler.2 A ghost who can hijack a host body in an instant, Kepler is unequivocally, unapologetically, a monster. In order to live, Kepler must assume a body; Kepler makes no excuses for choosing to live. The sympathy in Kepler’s character, however, is that we see this ghost has a kind of code. Through North’s skillful prose and alternating present-past life flashbacks, we learn that Kepler is not the mass murderer or serial killer that the Aquarius Group believes it to be. We read of a ghost who is cautious, measured, and calculating; one who, when the situation is right, even attempts to make the lives of its hosts better (however misguided and immoral that decision may be). For Josephine Cebula, this is enduring the withdrawals from intravenous drugs and offering her a chance at wealth and a fresh start; for Maria Anna Celeste Jones, a different woman from a different time, it is offering a chance of revenge for the rapes and abuses wrought by a corrupt and powerful politician. Make no mistake, Kepler is no saint and every transaction comes at a cost – but beyond basic, even the “good” deeds the ghost plants are rife with questionable morality. When one is a body thief, stealing the time, the identities, the very lives of its hosts, it’s hard to moralize or support the rationalizations of the thief. When one such as Kepler takes on the role of “estate agent” and does the dirty work for other ghosts, so that they can easily slide into the bodies, lives of their dream hosts, it’s even harder to sympathize with such a character.
Somehow, however, North pulls it off.
Perhaps this is because we, as readers, are exposed to other ghosts in the course of Touch. We read Kepler’s horror and pain at losing Josephine, Kepler’s outrage at the injustice of that unnecessary death. In contrast, we are introduced to other ghosts: Janus, who seemingly flits from pretty, rich, privileged body to body. Aurangzeb, the childish, whining ghost who yearns for fame and glory. Galileo, the true murderer, driven mad over the millennia. North’s ghosts are fickle, capricious, god-like creatures who play with the lives of mortals not just because they can, but because they have no other choice. It is the way the ghost interacts with its mortal audience that makes all the difference. This is Kepler’s story, and Kepler’s strength.
"We fall in love too easily, ghosts such as I."
There is little not to love in Touch. The writing is beautiful, the questions it raises about mortality and morality are striking. Although the book’s ending tends towards overly-sentimental, there is no doubt in my mind that Touch is one of the best books I’ve read all year. It’s a contender for a top 10 book of 2015, and I’ll be rushing out to get my copy of The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August immediately.
Absolutely recommended, for the monster in all of us....more