White light blinds you as your eyes open. As they adjust, you see strangers surrounding you. They take care of you, keeping you in a white room like a safe cocoon. Though when you sleep, dreams that feel so real haunt you, sharing a past that might have been yours and urging you to remember it—a truth you must unravel. During your first evaluation session, the doctor asks you how you are feeling and what you saw in your nightmares. You open your mouth to answer, but then a voice in your head, much like a conscience, urges you to lie. What would you do? This is Emma’s reality and she has a choice to make—trust a past life she doesn’t remember or give in to the tempting lifestyle she has now.
In Archetype, the novel is in first-person narrative, a story told through our protagonist Emma’s eyes. When readers first meet Emma, she is a weak and naïve character. She herself even realizes it, but I believe she is a reflection of her circumstances. Now, comparing her to the voice in her head, which early on I assumed was the essence of the woman she was before the “accident,” I enjoyed this stronger and quirky personality much more. I couldn’t get enough of her. She had quick wit and hilarious sarcasm that eased some of the tension in the story. The voice, or as Emma calls it “Her”, even protects Emma, guiding and helping her through her journey of difficult situations and getting her closer to seeing the bigger picture.
For me, chapter one was a slow start. As a reader, I tend to gravitate more towards books with beginnings that dive straight into the action. However, for Archetype, I believe this particular introduction into Emma’s story is necessary to allow readers to totally get inside her head, understand how she feels, and fully follow her every step of the way. As a result, we can better understand her ups and downs. Without this bond with her, I think readers wouldn’t be as sympathetic for her towards the end of the novel.
By chapter two, the novel does pick up its pace and grabbed my full attention until the very end. It had a healthy flow and intrigue. The best way I can describe my experience reading this book is: it was like watching a swan gliding over calm waters, but I was continuously reminded of its feet frantically kicking underneath the surface. Along with Emma, readers collect the pieces of the memories she sees in dreams and nightmares, which the voice in her head reveals to her slowly over the course of the novel. The narrative was smooth and always moving forward, but there was always this nagging feeling that I wanted to discover the mighty secret behind the curtain. Emma’s story also reminded me of my university days when I took a few psychology courses and learned about repression, dualism, and dream interpretation. From the minds of Freud and Jung, they believed the truth is always hidden from within.
A woman’s life is a constant contradiction in Archetype. In futuristic United States, where infertility is a growing problem, fertile women are highly valued but treated like possessions and a privilege to have, if you have the money. They are treated like slaves, being kept in Women Training Centers until they reach adulthood. Once they reach eighteen, they are put on display and then given to the highest bidder. Meanwhile, infertile women have a lower status in society, but I feel have a greater freedom.
This brings me to the men of this story: Declan and Noah. When Emma learns Declan is her husband, she seems to have it all. He’s powerful, wealthy, and gives her whatever she desires. Discovering she enjoys and knows how to paint, her husband gives her a private room where she can work in peace. He’s super protective of her too. They share an exquisite cabin-like home, which is perfect for the winter season, however Emma hates the cold. Overtime, he installs a security system around the house, which seems drastic, but he reassures her it’s all for her protection.
The only qualm I had with this novel were the sex scenes Emma had with Declan. Their first time together after Emma’s “accident” seemed too intense and too much in one go. *To be on the safe side, skip over to the next paragraph if you don’t want to read this small tidbit of a spoiler. Then later on in the story, Declan goes on to tell her that her “accident” consisted of multiple members of the resistance group having raped her. It didn’t sit well with me and the scene lost a sense of realism when moments later she chooses to be extremely intimate with her husband (and several times too!) without fully processing his words or even asking for some time alone.
Then, there’s Noah. Emma first sees him in her dreams on a beach in Mexico, which contrasts with Declan’s wintry vibe. From what the voice shows her, Emma feels like she has a connection with this man too and even grows to care about him. Throughout the novel when she crossed paths with him, he’s harsh and guarded, even causes her physical harm. Each man, both Declan and Noah, has this veil of mystery about them that you’re just not sure who to trust and it was difficult for me to have a clear favourite between the two.
However, I do need to mention Foster. He’s a side character, but he was my absolute favourite male character. He plays the part of Emma’s best friend and confidante (in a way). Even when Emma’s world was crumbling, he was there for her. His humour was a great thing to have to balance out all the tension towards the heavy ending of the novel.
Without giving anything away, the big reveal was mind-blowing and awesome. There was a moment when I had to pause, turn back a page to check if I had missed anything, then continued to read on to understand what it all meant. I’ve been a reader for many years now that most of the time I can make a good guess what will happen next or what the big climax will be. It’s so hard to surprise me anymore. I did have my own theories while I read, but Archetype’s big moment caught me off guard and I loved how everything turned out.
As a science fiction fan, I loved how author M.D. Waters seamlessly integrated science and technology into the story, but it is subtle enough that this novel would be the perfect way to introduce new readers to the genre. It was also great to see how much significant character development Emma had undergone. From the memories she sees in her dreams, they show her the capable, determined, and strong woman she can become. She definitely comes into her own in Archetype, and I’m looking forward to her continuous transformation and reuniting with her on her journey in Prototype.
*Disclosure: An advance reading copy was provided from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions within this review are solely my own, not that of the publisher or the author.