Monday, November 24, 2014

Archetype: A Mirror for New Adult’s Unanswered Questions

In her dystopian novel Archetype, M.D. Waters writes of a woman who struggles to define herself in a strange and hostile world she hardly recognizes, striking a familiar chord with New Adult readers. ♦

Who are you?
           What is your purpose here?
           What defines you as a person—and makes you essentially you?
      These are the deepest, most philosophical questions at the heart of M.D. Waters’s dystopian thriller Archetype, the first in a two-book series set in a world where infertility threatens the human race’s existence, and where fertile women have become a rare and valuable commodity, literally. It’s into this environment that Emma Burke, a young woman in her mid-twenties, awakens from a mysterious accident with all the mental awareness of an infant; for all intents and purposes, she is a child in the way she must regain her abilities and outlooks on life. Her mind is malleable, prone to being imprinted upon by the first person to pay her any kindness, which happens to be a man named Declan Burke, an attractive, powerful man who claims to be her husband, though Emma has no recollection of him. Declan is with Emma every step of the way in her recovery, coaching her, encouraging her, and teaching her the roles she must play as his wife, and she accepts everything he tells her as fact. Why should she not?
       It doesn't take long for Emma to accept her role as Declan's wife; she submits willingly to the significant charms of her husband, and she believes that she could be happy in this new life with her husband, if only the nightmares and the dreams of another life didn't plague her . . . mysterious dreams of a tube of water in which she is held prisoner, a camp in which she is taught how to be the perfect wife, a mission in which she acts as a soldier wielding a weapon, and secret, sensual moments with a man named Tucker. She does not know what to make of these dreams; they seem to be completely unrelated to each other and to her. Her life with Declan, the one he has explained to her, does not comply with the life in her dreams. But as her dreams become more vivid, even coming to her while she is awake, she begins to question whether they are dreams at all. She hears a voice in her head, one that sounds like her own, which may be the source of her waking dreams and the reason she feels so connected to this life they present. Even as Emma starts to fall for Declan, these dreams seem to reveal the holes in the memories he has created for her, which Emma is able to ignore until a figure from her dreams walks straight into her waking life, forcing her to question her husband, her sanity, and eventually her own existence.
       Archetype is a story about finding one’s self and understanding that one’s experiences are not the sum of who one is as a person, that the soul is more complex than experiences and runs deeper than lies are able to touch. Emma’s story is one that explores the grueling questions of what makes a person who she is, and what exactly is a soul? The trope of the strong female lead has perhaps become overdone and played out in YA lit, a genre this book might be considered part of, but to tell this story in this particular world, a female protagonist is necessary, especially one who learns to gain her own footing, who becomes stronger over the course of the novel as Emma resists the life she is told to have by Declan in favor of a life she slowly begins to remember.
       Declan is initially portrayed as gentle, put-together, a loving man—the perfect man, really—but that portrayal shifts dramatically with every new piece of Emma’s puzzle that falls into place. When Emma discovers Declan's secret that he was not her first choice of husband, all the love she had previously felt for him begins to disappear as she realizes that she may have loved someone else before her accident, a depthless love that no amount of lies or amnesia could bury. From this point on, Declan is portrayed as the villain . . . and, in truth, the reasons Declan gives for tracking Emma down and marrying her, despite her true feelings, are flimsy at best. In a novel so craftily written, one that makes great use of narrative, characterization, and plot reveals, this particular motivation doesn't really add up, and this is the only flaw I felt while reading, the only thing that sucked me out of the story just a bit.
       As I said earlier, Archetype could very easily fit the genre of Young Adult fiction for a number of reasons; however, I believe it has a better place in the strange genre of New Adult fiction, aimed at a readership in their early-to-mid-twenties, at an age where people are still trying to decipher who they really are and how they fit into the world, which is no different than what Emma is trying to understand throughout the novel. If you enjoy science fiction, a little bit of romance, some mystery, and a whole lot of action—and especially if you fall into the stage of life when those big questions of identity and finding yourself are everyday questions—then check out this novel. Even if you are sick of strong female leads, Emma will lift your spirits as her character develops and she truly earns her role as a strong female lead, which is enough to set her apart from other dystopian heroines.
       As for the science fiction aspect, I was a bit uneasy about it at first. The genre definitely comes with a lot of baggage, and I never considered myself “in” with that crowd, but Archetype is worth checking out in spite of what you might think about that genre. Waters’s style—the strange way in which Emma does not use contractions; her conversations with herself as if the voice in her head were a separate person; the confusing nature of her dreams—all comes together beautifully by the end of the novel. The story is a complete payoff; what I questioned in the beginning, what I worried about in regards to Waters’s choices as a writer, were things that turned out to be essential to the story and quite brilliant with the full picture in mind. To avoid spoiling the story, I will just say: read to find out how the pieces of Emma’s story fall into place, how she aims to discover the answers to life’s most fundamental questions. If Emma can come to understand her own place in the world, can we all come to understand our own?

Further reading: Once you have devoured Archetype, follow it up with the final installment, Prototype, or the short prequel, Antitype (available in digital only). If a love for science fiction has crept upon you, as it has done to me, then I recommend you also check out the Starbound trilogy.
  • About the Author
    Kathleen Harris is a lover of words. She is one of the current Editors in Chief of Happy Captive Magazine. When she is not writing content for Turning Page (and other publications she hopes to contribute to), she enjoys reading in what spare time she has (which is usually while walking to class). Her true loves include cheesecake and binge watching Netflix. Find her on Goodreads.

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