Author: Veronica Roth
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication date: February 21, 2023
Length: 128 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Review copy via the publisher
From dystopian visionary and bestselling phenomenon Veronica Roth comes a razor-sharp reimagining of Antigone. In Arch-Conspirator, Roth reaches back to the root of legend and delivers a world of tomorrow both timeless and unexpected.
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.
This slim novella is tautly written and beautiful presented. Word to the wise: It does help to have a passing familiarity with the classic story of Antigone before reading Arch-Conspirator… but I suppose it would work even without reference to the source.
In this dystopian reimagining of the tale, humanity has reached the brink of its own end. The planet is mostly uninhabitable. There’s one city left; outside it is the wilderness. All goods are scarce, buildings are decaying, and blowing dust covers everything. The only hope for humanity’s future is the Archive, where genetic material taken from people after death is stored. A quasi-religious value is attached to these Archives — the stored samples represent immortality for the dead, a way of saving and then resurrecting their souls.
It was hard to imagine a time when it hadn’t been this way — when plants grew untended in the wild, maintained by their own seeds spreading; when the plains beyond the city were overrun with animals that we had not bred ourselves; when genes persisted through the generations, presenting a person with their grandmother’s brow, their great-grandfather’s jaw. Everything required effort now. Everything required editing.
Antigone and her siblings are considered soulless abominations — their parents conceived them naturally, rather than going through genetic manipulation to achieve best results. They’re scorned and shunned, but as the living children of the murdered king and queen, they also represent power and legitimacy. With their uncle Kreon, now the ruler, looking to consolidate power and squash all attempts at rebellion, it’s only a matter of time until Antigone herself is caught at the center of the resulting devastation.
Arch-Conspirator is chilling to read. Being aware of the basics of the classic story, I knew that this would be a story with a tragic ending. Feeling the inevitable looming makes every page an exercise in suspense and sadness. Author Veronica Roth weaves this brief tale together with gorgeous writing and precise plotting. The end took my breath away!