the Little Red Reviewer

Latchkey, by Nicole Kornher-Stace

Posted on: June 17, 2018

Latchkey, by Nicole Kornher-Stace

publishes July 10th 2018

where I got it: received ARC from the publisher (thank you Mythic Delirium!)







Reading the second book in a series first is like getting to have dessert first.  More than likely the worldbuilding is already done, the characters know what they are about, the author has a clearer idea of where the story is going and what should happen. You might feel a little lost, and your mileage will certainly vary.  But then when you do go back and read the first book, you’ll feel like a psychic, because you’ll know all sorts of details the characters don’t know!


Suffice to say, the first thing I did after I finished Nicole Kornher-Stace’s Latchkey was order the first book in the series, Archivist Wasp.


Latchkey is part post-apocalyptic, part mythology, part ghost story, and and all perspective shift, told through the lens of  Kornher-Stace’s mastery of prose and evocatively transportive language. This is the kind of sharp vibrant prose that would translate beautifully to an anime or a movie.  Highly recommended for fans of Robert Jackson Bennett’s Divine Cities series, fans of N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth series, and anyone who enjoys a gorgeously told story about horrible things that should never have happened.


With metaphors that shouldn’t make sense but do, a poetry on the weight of stories that became legend that became religion, and a world where a hypervigilant 6th sense itch is the only thing that will save your life, nothing in Latchkey stays merely on the page. When Isabel was afraid, I was afraid. When she couldn’t breathe, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. When she is about to drop dead of exhaustion, I felt tired and fatigued. She never lost hope, so I didn’t either.  When I say this was an exhausting read, I mean that as the highest form of praise.


Latchkey takes place a few years after the events of Korner-Stace’s 2015 award winning Archivist Wasp.  Isabel and the other ex-upstarts are still getting used to the fact that they won’t have to kill their friends to survive, that they won’t ever again have to live a life of violence and fear.  The old tradition of the archivists has come to an end, even if the PTSD is still at the surface.  Isabel and the other girls need to figure out what to do with the rest of their lives. In the meantime, they’ll still care for the Catchkeep Shrine, still say the words of their goddess, still have hope that the townspeople of Sweetwater can come to trust them.

When Sweetwater is threatened by raiders,  the plan is that Isabel will herd the children and non-fighting adults into the tunnels beneath the town and keep them quiet and safe. If the raiders breach the safety of the tunnels, Isabel has a different, darker mission to accomplish. These same tunnels are full of hungry ghosts, drawn by the smell of blood. Isabel has been here before. She’s seen these hallways and these rooms. But she saw them before everything was destroyed, she saw them through a ghost’s eyes. Whenever Isabel uses the harvesting knife to damage a ghost, she falls into that person’s memories. She’s able to see the moment they couldn’t get past, and sometimes if she can talk them past it, they will leave her alone.  These ghosts may be silvery blobs who don’t know where or when they are, but they can and will kill you in an instant.


In Archivist Wasp, Isabel and an unexpectedly intelligent ghost went on a quest in the Ghost Place to find the ghost of Catherine Foster. The ghost doesn’t remember his name, he only remembers fragments of his life, and sometimes he doesn’t remember what he did an hour ago. At that time, all he knew was that he needed to find Foster, and that only Isabel could help him. For lack of anything better, Isabel just calls him “the ghost”.  In these same tunnels again, Isabel runs into Foster and the ghost, and this time she is asking them for help. Is there another way out? Are the townspeople safe down here? Why are you two still hanging out down here anyways? What the hell happened here?


Most of Latchkey is Isabel, Sairy, Foster, and the ghost, travelling through the tunnels, finding safe passage and sometimes running into other ghosts. That’s what’s happening, but that isn’t what’s happening, if you know what I mean. The more ghosts they meet, the more memories Isabel is able to read.  She gets bits and pieces of the lives of the children in the Latchkey program – their horrible painful deaths, what they were forced to do as child-super-soldiers, that they basically knew they were not going to get out of this alive. She’s going to have to decide which is more important to her – getting the final pieces of this puzzle, or staying alive. It’s quite the perspective shift, to know that you probably won’t get out of this alive.


If you like gorgeous prose, a slow burn, angry ghosts, snarky dialog and gut punches, and the intersection of post-apocalyptic and mythology,  Latchkey is the book for you. This book is written in the language of a path of breadcrumbs, won’t you see where it leads?


There is so much more I want to tell you about this book, but all the good stuff is spoilers, and exquisite gut punches. I want to tell you about the rooms that are on the map, and that Isabel’s coat is a graveyard, and the bones that her world is built on,  and how terrified I was because the room might flood, and the square things, and Catchkeep’s Upself, and all those stories about Ember Girl, and how Kornher-Stace uses the art of storytelling to tell other characters all the things they don’t realize they already know,  but I can’t tell you because not only would it ruin the end of the book but it would ruin your experience of it. These are doors you need to open yourself.

I am still recovering from that single line about her coat being a graveyard. People, this is exactly how language is supposed to work. The effect of that line is the whole point of telling stories.  I hope to be in recovery of that pain of that line for as long as possible.  Isabel can’t forget what she’s been through, it would be insulting to her if I ever saw her coat as anything but a graveyard.


I really hope Kornher-Stace writes more in this world.   What other memories will Isabel discover? Why did the Latchkey program even start in the first place? How did it end?


Did you grow up in the 80s? Does the term “Latchkey Kids” make you think of young  elementary school age kids who stayed after school because no one was at home to watch them?


2 Responses to "Latchkey, by Nicole Kornher-Stace"

Post-apocalyptic is not my cup of tea, usually, but your review was great and now I am really curious! 🙂

Liked by 1 person

[…] The Little Red Reviewer says: If you like gorgeous prose, a slow burn, angry ghosts, snarky dialog and gut punches, and the intersection of post-apocalyptic and mythology, Latchkey is the book for you. […]


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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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