Archivist Wasp by Nicole Kornher-Stace. ★★★★
In a way, Archivist Wasp reminds me of Mad Max: Fury Road. In a post apocalyptic world, Wasp is the Archivist, hunter of ghosts. She has to kill to keep her position or be killed herself. When she meets a ghost stronger than the rest, that of a dead solider, she sees a way out. The ghost is looking for the ghost of another solider, a woman named Foster. In returning for going down into the underworld, she may receive the key to her freedom. That is, if she’s able to come back out.
Archivist Wasp is a short but striking novel. It’s classified as YA and has a sixteen year old protagonist, but it feels nothing like most YA books. It avoids the normal tropes and is entirely without romance. Seriously, no romance at all. Not even between secondary characters. The most important relationships in the book are Wasp’s tenuous friendship with the ghost, and the ghost’s relationship with Foster, which is highly important but never depicted as romantic.
“She could still see the face of every upstart she’d killed. Still woke from dreams in which they died all over again, woke nauseous and sweaty and scrubbing invisible blood from her hands.
She was sick of it. She was beyond sick of it. There had to be another way.”
The reason I compared Archivist Wasp to Fury Road is that both stories are about dehumanization. Wasp started out as an upstart, a girl whose scars on her face mark her as a servant to the goddess Catchkeep. Every year the upstarts have to draw straws to fight the Archivist. Wasp won the position by killing her predecessor, and for the three years following she’s had to kill or be killed. She’s treated as a tool, not a person, and she’s at least partly internalized that mindset in regards to herself. While their lives were very different, there’s some clear parallels between Wasp and the two ghosts. The two ghosts (the unnamed solider and Foster) were super soldiers, created in a lab to win a war. Yet somehow, Foster was able to retain her humanity. It is this that draws the ghost and through his descriptions and memories, Wasp, to her. Archivist Wasp is the story of people who’ve been used and dehumanized regaining their sense of self.
There’s few to no explanations regarding the world of Archivist Wasp. What led to the apocalypse four hundred years ago? Why are there only now ghosts? What is going on with the strange and often nonsensical realm of the underworld? However, none of these questions ever bothered me, for that’s not what the story is about. Archivist Wasp is not a large story, and the cast is highly limited. It is a story about one girl and her journey, both emotional and physical.
Archivist Wasp deserves far more attention than it’s received. It’s powerful and moving story that I would highly recommend.