the Little Red Reviewer

Archivist Wasp, by Nicole Kornher-Stace

Posted on: July 4, 2018

Archivist Wasp, by Nicole Kornher-Stace

published May 2015

where I got it: purchased new





She’s been told her whole life that she was chosen by the Goddess Catchkeep, that only she and the few like her had the ability to be Catchkeep’s avatar.


A ghost told her she’s famous in the underworld, that the dead speak of her skills, her knowledge, and her compassion.


When she gained the title of Archivist by poisoning the previous archivist, she took the name Wasp. Her true name has been buried deep.


It will take a journey to the underworld for Wasp to realize how much of her life is a lie.  More than just her true name has been buried deep. Under the shrine, under the town, under what passes for civilization are the lost and forgotten secrets of the dead.  The dead rarely speak, but they nearly always communicate, usually by physically attacking living people.


As the Archivist, Wasp is responsible for catching any ghosts found in the region, asking them a specific set of questions, keeping them if they are useful, and releasing them if they prove worthless. Violent ghosts are destroyed.  To guide her, she has the notes of the archivists who came before her, some notes are better than others, some archivists collected more knowledge than others. The life of an archivist is usually short and violent, this is not the kind of job you retire from.  There can only be one living Archivist at a time, so their knowledge dies with them.


I recently read the soon-to-be-released sequel to Archivist Wasp, Latchkey (July 10th, Mythic Delirium Books) so I’m reading these atmospheric and compelling books backwards. In a way, it’s neat, because I went into Archivist Wasp knowing things about the world that Wasp doesn’t know yet.  Latchkey actually had very little in the way of spoilers for the first book, so it was thrilling to watch Wasp as she learns how the harvesting knife works, and I finally got to see what really happened to the Catchkeep Priest.


As expected, Kohnher-Stace’s balanced prose in Archivist Wasp perfectly captures Wasp’s lonesome post-apocalytpic world, just as it exquisitely captures the inhumane violence of Wasp’s life as a temple upstart and then as an Archivist.  Imagine Hunger Games on steroids, where teenagers are viciously murdered in cold blood because there can be only one winner, now crank up the masochism and throw in some angry, hungry, and very confused ghosts.

Wasp is equal parts thrilled and distrustful when she meets a ghost who can actually talk. He is violent and confused, but he can speak and remember some things. Sometimes he forgets that Wasp is a living breathing girl, not the dead woman he’s looking for. They make a bargain – Wasp will travel with him into the underworld to find the ghost of the dead woman he’s looking for, and he’ll give her a piece of healing technology.


The ghost remembers the name of the woman he’s looking for – Catherine Foster, he remembers the names of a few other people, but he doesn’t remember his own name, so Wasp just calls him “ghost”.  To travel into the underworld, she’ll have to nearly die. She must leave her body behind, connected to herself by only a thin thread. What will happen if the thread breaks? What will happen when or if they find Catherine Foster?  This is more than any Archivist has ever learned about ghosts, has ever learned about the past. If Wasp dies in the underworld, or if her flesh and bone body dies before she can get back to it, all this knowledge will lost.


I loved the relationship between the ghost and Wasp.  They have both been forced into lone wolf roles, but deep down neither of them are lone wolves.  Ghost teaches her about the Latchkey project, about the children raised to be something they shouldn’t have ever had to become, and Wasp sees herself reflected in Ghost’s stories.  He may have lied to her at first, but she understands why he sought her out.


You’re probably thinking Orpheus and Eurydice? I was a little bit too.  But Archivist Wasp is more Hero’s Journey than Orpheus in the Underworld. Or at least Wasp is on a Hero’s Journey, maybe it’s the Ghost who is on his nth iteration of an Orpheus type journey?   How many times has he tried to find Catherine and failed?


These ghosts are made of memories, of whatever was foremost in the person’s mind when they died, often the moment they couldn’t get past, their regrets.   I really got into that idea, that ghosts are walking manifestations of what is left of their memories. As you forget things, you fade, and eventually disappear (Even Wasp has things in her life that are slowly deteriorating memories, such as the traditions she follows).  If Catherine has already forgotten who she is, they’ll never find her. Not a problem, says the ghost, Catherine was always the strongest among us. The things that Wasp must do to help the ghost remember his life could destroy both of them.


If you enjoy post apocalyptic fiction that has a mythic, epic feel, Archivist Wasp and Latchkey are for you.     I read these books out of order, and you can too! If you want to see where it all began, obviously read them in published order, but know that craft-wise, Latchkey is the better book, as  Archivist Wasp does suffer from some pacing issues and some confusing action scenes. Don’t let that turn you off though, the reward at the end (and Latchkey!) is worth stumbling through them.

1 Response to "Archivist Wasp, by Nicole Kornher-Stace"

Cool! This sounds really good – I’ve added it to my ever-lengthening list! 😀


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FTC Stuff

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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