Archetype by M.D. Waters (Dutton)
Reviewed by Robyn Hugo McIntyre
I recently read a book review in the New York Times wherein the reviewer wrote, “North American readers care inordinately that fictional characters be likable.” That struck me, for I’ve discovered if I don’t like the characters in a story, I have less interest in reading the work. The reviewer wondered if those of us who feel we have to be able to invest in a character aren’t missing good books. Is it not more important that the character be interesting?
At the beginning of Archetype by M.D. Waters, I would not have been able to say the main character was either interesting or likeable. Emma Burke is a cipher, even to herself.
She has had, she is told, a terrible accident, which has destroyed her memories, and she must patiently work to regain them even as she builds her strength and her ability to do even the simple things most people take for granted. She’s aided in her recovery by her brilliant physician, Dr. Travista, and her very devoted husband, Declan. But the challenges she faces are quickly shown to be more than fitting neatly again into her previous life. Nightmares and dreams of another man intrude, and worse—a voice in her head warns her to be cautious. She learns to both listen to and resent that voice. But worst is to come: the man she has been dreaming about appears in her waking life and Emma is not sure if he is the love of her life or her biggest enemy. Or perhaps, he is both. Or neither.
I found the first half of the book rather slow going. The tension builds evenly, but languorously. While focused on Emma, you come to understand as she does. And the world is confusing. She has dream/memories of being respected and in charge, but in this world, women are less people than property. If you are a regular reader of science fiction, this premise is familiar and you begin to mentally round up the usual suspects. This tends to make the story seem rather predictable and there is little to contradict that view. Still, M.D. Waters knows how to get you to turn pages and she seeds enough small clues that things may not fall out as you expect, that you keep going to the second half of the book, where you are rewarded with a fuller view, more action by Emma, and the beginnings of enlightenment.
It turns out to be both what you thought and yet, not that at all.
By the end of the book you are wondering what Emma will choose to do and her choice is understandable, but feels incomplete. This too, is understandable, since there is a sequel (Prototype) to be released in the summer.
I found Archetype ultimately engaging and the twist on medical manipulation interesting. It’s not a deep read—the science is not explained and I found Waters’ use of a pop-culture shortcut like mentioning The Stepford Wives took me out of the story. But it’s definitely got its moments. If you’re looking for something like gothic mystery in a science fiction setting, a Rebecca or Rosemary’s Baby (without the devil), this is a good bet. And as Emma grows from clueless to take-charge, you may end up finding her both interesting and likeable.
Robyn Hugo McIntyre is a contributing editor of LitChat. Read more about her here.