Reed's Recommendation Corner: Arch-Conspirator by Veronica Roth


A woman in a long cap walks up a curving hill to a stylized building. She has a bun and a long scarf flows behind her. In the distance, a city is in silhouette
Arch-Conspirator by Veronica Roth

    I am a huge fan of Veronica Roth. My love of her work started with her YA Divergent series, which came out around the same times that the Hunger Games started to get popular. It was another look at a futuristic society, and the writing and world-building was really, really well done. Roth also wrote the duology Carve the Mark and The Fates Divide and the look at post-saving-the-world heroes The Chosen Ones. Like I said, I have followed her writing career pretty closely. 

I was really excited to hear that Roth wrote a novella that took the story of Antigone by Sophocles (one of the three Greek tragedians whose plays survive in their entirety) and wrote a futuristic story about a post-apocalyptic world. In this world, the last surviving human city is ruled by Kreon, after the brutal murder of Antigone's parents Jocasta and Oedipus. The laws of the land state that when someone dies, their genetics are collected and stored in a sacred building called the Archive. No one is excluded from this ritual, no matter their choices, because humanity is on its last legs. All people are made from a combination of these genes, and I recall a scene where two women wandered the shelves, looking at each name plate and talking quietly to each other. Antigone and her siblings were born in a more natural way, and are thus seen as not having souls and are abhorrent.

The story is told from several different perspectives, all in first-person. I found that to be an excellent choice for the novella, because it echoed the source material and created a deeper connection with the characters. It kept me engaged, reading this as though I was watching a stage play. 

Because of the length, the focus of this story is more on the characters, their bonds, the story development. Family's influence on each other, the change of perspective on what is good and moral, and female autonomy are major themes in this story. I would say that Antigone seems, sometimes, to be moved by the waves her family creates around her. While she reacts impulsively sometimes, she moves with her own moral compass, which clashes with her uncle Kreon's angry and impulsive decisions that make him disliked and unloved by the people. 

As I neared the end of the story, I had flashbacks to one of the final songs in the Broadway play "Hadestown":

It’s a sad song

It’s a sad tale, it’s a tragedy

It’s a sad song

But we sing it anyway


Cause, here’s the thing:

To know how it ends

And still begin to sing it again

As if it might turn out this time

I learned that from a friend of mine

 I knew how the story ended, and yet I hoped. I hoped that it would somehow end differently, that Antigone would finally be able to explore her budding interest in Haemon, that Kreon would finally reign in his terrible anger. That the brothers would live and the people would find harmony. 

But like the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, this story does not have a happy ending. As Antigone's story comes to end, as the people begin to rebel against Kreon, I found myself crying. I knew it was coming, but Roth's writing still left me in tears. 

I wish that this had been done in a longer format, but I know that had it been a full length novel, the heart of the story would have been lost in the weeds. 

Please, support your independent booksellers and check out this book!