1 January 2016

Ringing in 2016 with Salvation: A Review of Archivist Wasp, Nicole Kornher-Stace

2015 stretches behind while 2016 gleams with promise, as I glance over to my pile of Christmas books. This girl got all the books  and is smugger than Smaug upon his horde of golden treasures. I have found myself under the tree an inordinate amount of times simply shuffling through the books, slightly grinning, pondering which one I should tackle first. Never one to think through the timing of a read, the first to be drawn was the post-apocalyptic nightmare, Archivist Wasp by Nicole Kornher-Stace that kept me deeply troubled as the holidays played around me. 

The Archivist, a servant of Catchkeep, the keeper of souls, marked in the heavens as a constellation of 16 stars, observes, catches and traps ghosts. An outcast of society, an Archivist acts as a medium between the dead and the living. Without the ministrations of these young girls, marked from birth as Catchkeep's servants, ghosts would overwhelm the town, harming the living who struggle with the most mundane pursuits of food, water and shelter. The Catchkeep Priest with his hounds provides a consistent threat, maintaining a hive of Upstarts who yearly struggle to achieve the role as Archivist. Archivists do not live long, nor well; her title earned through death, is a young woman's only path to salvation.

A light reading pursuit for this, the end of 2015, it is not but powerful it so very much is. Nicole Kornher-Stace has written a nightmarish adventure that follows Wasp, the current Archivist who has successfully fended off yet another Upstart attack, and now having barely healed from the death-match is required to continue her ghostly pursuits. The ghosts are between the world of substance and the world of myth. Death is a land of great unending confusion, a place that seeps out a ghost's memories, eventually leaving a shell that wanders the ages, searching for that which they do not know. Without the Archivist the town would be riddled with ghosts trying to gain substance to their identities, attracted to salt, blood, many rage filled, harming, even killing the living. Without the Archivist's ability to bind a ghost, without the 400 years of recorded observations, Catchkeep's wrath would fall down upon the town. 

And it is with this that we follow down the warren tunnels of myth, religion and societal needs, exploring how violence is accepted, why we turn on our very own. I loved this dark tale, the exploration of the living and the dead, the idea that a ghost over time is simply a less complete version of it's living memories. I loved the startling realizations revealed almost reluctantly of the timing and place of this novel. Kornher-Stace dives her readers into a very oppressive world and only over time offers glimpses into what once was and how far in the future we truly are. Not every story you read needs to be so blunt with time and space. There is a definite feeling of mythos to this book; a cautionary tale we one day might find in the annals of our own spiritual fables.

Archivist Wasp is YA, Young Adult, a category that always seems to follow any tale that is violent, dark and with teens the protagonists. Barely myself able to stomach the depth of cruelty found within the pages, I would greatly resist having any of my teen nieces and nephews read it until their maturity matches their ability to see beyond the despair. This is a difficult book, written in a very accessible way, thus creating a conundrum of who the target reader should be. I continue to be surprised by what some children/tweens are reading simply because their vernacular is extensive enough to suss out the plot. An ability to read does not equate the ability to carry the levels of violence found in many of YA books on the shelf. 

While my surprise in discovering Archivist Wasp to be YA brings some caution to my overall recommendation, I still stand fully behind this novel. It is a gem, a dystopian, bleak gem that will haunt your waking dreams, inspiring you to delve more into the land of fable and nightmares. Nicole Kornher-Stace is a talented writer someone who is now fully on this girl's reading radar.

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