In this installment of Page 69,
we put Nicole Kornher-Stace's Archivist Wasp,
which is scheduled to release in May through Big Mouth House,
to the test.
Ok Nicole, set up what we are about to read on page 69 for us.
By now, sixteen-year-old Wasp has spent three years as Archivist. Dedicated to a goddess of the dead, her job is to capture and study ghosts to learn about the long-gone, pre-apocalyptic world Before. Each year, to maintain her position, she's pitted against the other goddess-dedicated girls in ritualized single combat to the death. Meantime she's ostracized from the town, their priestess and scapegoat and intercessor with the dead, and as such respected and hated and feared in pretty much equal measure. Unfortunately for her, the only way out of this system is to be killed and replaced. Or escape, which she's attempted and failed at several times. Page 69 finds her in a despairing place, convinced she's run out of options, briefly contemplating suicide as the only remaining exit door she sees. And deciding instead to embark on a last-ditch effort to earn her freedom her way.
What is Archivist Wasp about?
It's the story of how a far-future post-apocalyptic ghosthunter priestess makes a bargain with the ghost of a near-future genetically-enhanced supersoldier to find the long-lost ghost of his partner somewhere in the underworld -- and, on the way, figure out how to earn her own freedom. But when you strip the plot away, what it's about is being terribly alone and then, against all odds, finding your people. It draws from mythology, comics, The Golden Bough, ridiculous action movies, all sorts of stuff I desperately love all mashed up into a ball and rolled down a hill to see where it goes. I've had several readers independently tell me it "reads like a fucked-up Miyazaki movie," which is a way better elevator pitch than I could have ever come up with on my own.
Do you think this page gives our readers an accurate sense of what the book is about? Does it align itself the novel’s theme?
I'd say it does. Page 69 is a major turning point for Wasp: if this were a Hero's Journey, this page would find her caught between Refusing the Call and deciding hey, on second thought, an adventure might be just the thing. It also shows her in the painfully awkward outset of an Unlikely Alliance, when it's about 95% Unlikely and 5% Alliance -- not only that, but the more Wasp and the ghost get to know each other, the more parallels she discovers between her situation and his. She's spent her life completely friendless, and this is her first tentative step toward learning how to trust, find her place, belong.
[She pictured her ghost] walking, a knife in its back, savaged by shrine-dogs, a green stone on her tongue as befit a dead Archivist. Dying all over again, with every step, of shame.
Her gaze fell on all those shattered jars, putting her in mind of other options. It wasn't that she was afraid to die, or afraid of pain. How many times had she drawn blood with the harvesting-knife to bind a ghost? How many wounds had she taken in combat and walked from? It couldn't hurt much worse, and if it did, she wouldn't mind for long. Already she could see the Catchkeep-priest's face when he found her on the floor, bled out and smiling. Let the upstarts fight over the knife and the saltlick and the rotting little house. Let the system dissolve altogether, and Catchkeep's stars tumble from the sky to burn this whole place down. She was done.
The harvesting-knife in her hand felt like an extension of her arm. She'd taken good care of it, kept it clean and polished and so, so sharp. It had drawn her blood countless times and she could depend on it to cut clean. So clean that, for a few precious seconds, she knew she wouldn't feel a thing.
She set the blade longwise against the blue vein in her wrist, drew a steadying breath through gritted teeth — and stopped.
She probably will not want to be found. But she is worth finding.
The thought went rolling around her mind pleasantly, like a smooth stone. There was a certain agreeable novelty to having value attached to her actions. Not her actions as Archivist, as the puppet of a goddess, as Catchkeep's-bones-and-stars-Her-flesh, but her actions performed through her choice, her risk, her boldness.
In the face of it, sitting there, giving up, she felt foolish and ineffectual. What she was doing was no answer at all. She [couldn't win this way.]
Nicole Kornher-Stace lives in New Paltz, NY, with two humans, three ferrets, and more books than strictly necessary. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. Archivist Wasp is her second novel.