Serena’s Review: “Arch-Conspirator”

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Book: “Arch-Conspirator” by Veronica Roth

Publishing Info: Tor Books, February 2023

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: Outside the last city on Earth, the planet is a wasteland. Without the Archive, where the genes of the dead are stored, humanity will end.

Passing into the Archive should be cause for celebration, but Antigone’s parents were murdered, leaving her father’s throne vacant. As her militant uncle Kreon rises to claim it, all Antigone feels is rage. When he welcomes her and her siblings into his mansion, Antigone sees it for what it really is: a gilded cage, where she is a captive as well as a guest.

But her uncle will soon learn that no cage is unbreakable. And neither is he.

Review: Roth has become a must-read author for me recently. The last few books I’ve read from her have all surprised me with their ability to push the boundaries of their genres and leave me thinking about their stories and themes days later. So I was excited when I saw that she was releasing a dystopia/science fiction version of “Antigone,” knowing that whatever I was in for, it was something I wouldn’t want to miss.

The earth is a radiated hellscape, and humanity has been reduced to one, struggling city where just the effort of avoiding extinction takes up the priorities of almost every aspect of society. Antigone’s parents hoped for more, for themselves, for their children, and for their world. But instead they were met with a violent coup, and now Antigone and her siblings have grown up in the household of Kreon, their power-hungry uncle. As she has grown, so, too, has Antigone’s anger. And when her uncle pushes his power past what can be born, Antigone finds herself facing a world that badly needs to be shaken.

Like many others, I read “Antigone” back in high school and really haven’t thought much more about it since. I do remember lots of tragedy and death all around just so one man could learn the lesson of not being a stubborn ass. Or something like that, at least. So I was curious to see how close to the original Roth stuck with this adaptation and how she would reconstruct a classical Greek story into a science fiction dystopia.

And I think the answers are that while she sticks fairly close to the original story, her abilities to write dystopian fiction should never be doubted, because she found very clever ways of adapting this ancient tale within futuristic and creative trappings all while exploring modern themes of power, science, and religion. Most especially, she finds a very unique way of adapting the central premise of the original story (Antigone attempting to perform banned funeral rites for her dead brother and being punished for this) into something that would raise the stakes of the entire situation. Here, these funeral rites hold much more power and import than as simple ritual acts. I don’t want to get into too many details about the world-building, but suffice it to say, it was a very clever interpretation, I thought.

Roth utilizes a multi-POV tactic with telling this story. While we do get more chapters from Antigone’s perspective than anyone else’s, we also see through her brother’s eyes, her sisters, Kreon’s son (with whom Antigone has an arranged marriage), Kreon’s wife, and even Kreon himself. I really enjoyed what all of these perspectives brought to the story. But as much of the tale is focused on the role that women play in this world and the kinds of power that they wield even while their options are so limited, I found Kreon’s wife and Antigone’s sister to have some of the more powerful sections (other than Antigone herself). Given how short this novella is, I was impressed by how well Roth fleshed out these themes in ways that will strike true to readers.

I also liked the way that the science fiction elements were used. There were a few things that left me questioning if I thought too hard about the mechanics of it all, but for the most part, I was so thoroughly invested in the story itself that I didn’t get too bogged down in these details. I also liked that while Roth remained true to the story as a whole, her story ends with both the necessary tragedy but also a sense of hope. I think this hope is necessary to any good dystopian story, and Roth neatly balances it while not loosing the sense of the original story. Fans of dystopian stories as well as retellings of tales that aren’t fairytales will likely enjoy this book.

Rating 8: Full of tragedy and hope, Roth uses the lens of a classic tale to shine a light on the power of women and the individual.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Arch-Conspirator” can be found on these Goodreads lists: Antigones and Can’t Wait Sci-Fi/Fantasy of 2023

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