Also published on this date: Shelf Awareness for Monday, January 6, 2014

Monday, January 6, 2014: Maximum Shelf: Archetype

Dutton: Archetype by M.D. Waters

Dutton: Archetype by M.D. Waters

Dutton: Archetype by M.D. Waters

Dutton: Archetype by M.D. Waters


by M.D. Waters

An intriguing genre fusion, Archetype is mystery, science fiction and romance rolled into one, and signifies the start of a suspenseful new series by debut author M.D. Waters. When Emma awakens in a hospital, she has no memory of who she is. Her handsome and attentive husband, Declan Burke, is an ideal Prince Charming: a sensitive listener, seductive in the bedroom and fabulously wealthy. As Emma learns more about her husband and the world she lives in, she simultaneously experiences flashbacks that tell a very different story from the one Declan is telling her. Soon Emma finds herself struggling to make sense of her memories, of her past life, and whether she is actually married to someone else entirely--a man who is now intent upon killing her.

The setting of Archetype is a futuristic dystopia, a North America torn asunder in a bitter civil war between the totalitarian East and the rebellious West. Medical technologies have advanced to do what was once thought impossible, and teleportation is a mode of transport. Luxurious conveniences whisper and whisk about the rooms to make life effortlessly comfortable for the wealthy. Declan is even able to gift Emma with an artist's dream--a studio that uses holographic technology to take on the appearance of any setting in the world she might wish to paint.

It is, moreover, a world that echoes Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, resulting from the combined effects of a shortage of females and a decrease in women's fertility, turning fecund women into a prized commodity. Most women are infertile and therefore assigned jobs suited to their inferior status, and are destined to perpetual singlehood. Meanwhile, in order to exploit the value of fertile women, girls in the East are placed in "Women's Training Camps" (WTCs) to prepare them for marriage, obedience and childbearing; they are subsequently sold to the highest bidder. Birth control and abortion are illegal--a fact that looms threateningly over Emma even in the midst of her marital bliss. Some inner voice is whispering to her that having a baby with Declan would be a bad idea--that he is a bad idea.

But who is the mysterious woman in her thoughts? Why does "She"--as Emma calls her--keep showing Emma images of a beach, of combat, of a brutal murder in a WTC? As the book progresses and Emma witnesses more and more "memories" that come together like the pieces of a puzzle, she faces an increasingly urgent dilemma: whether to stay in a marriage that seems perfect, or risk all by attempting to find out the truth.

The title Archetype has a double meaning in this narrative: there is on the one hand the science fiction meaning of the term, which is revealed at the end, when Emma discovers the root of her identity. On the other hand, the title can also refer to the archetype that the sinister Dr. Travista, the technological wizard behind the mystery, is attempting to create in Emma--that of Virginia Woolf's "Angel in the House," the perfect wife. The Women's Training Camps begin the work that Dr. Travista attempts to complete in Emma, encouraging only "feminine" qualities such as domestic contentment, subservience, the desire for children and--above all--total reliance upon her husband. Anything that might make Emma independent is inherently threatening--she lives under what is essentially house arrest. Any time she shows signs of rebelling against these conditions, she is returned to the hospital for treatments and tests. That she has no idea what is being done to her, and at first has no memories of anything that took place months before, makes the situation all the more macabre.

In contrast, the "She" of Emma's flashbacks is an experienced fighter, ruthlessly independent even when in love, and given to biting irony. Thus Emma finds herself torn between the archetype she is being conditioned to become, and the compelling voice of a strong woman--and she has no idea which is real.

Elements of romance come into play early on, when Emma experiences all the bloom of first love with Declan, her husband, as she regains consciousness. The conflict between the two women within her--the obedient wife and the fighter--is exemplified in two men, Declan and Noah Tucker; she believes the latter might have been her true husband all along. A suspenseful plot drives Emma's emotional conflict and sexual tension with these two men, though it is not as simple as choosing between them: while Declan loves Emma and wishes to be married to her, Noah may never have been her husband at all. How can Emma give up a perfect life, married to a devoted and wealthy man, for the sake of a life that may have never been hers and is surely gone? --Ilana Teitelbaum

Dutton, $26.95, hardcover, 9780525954231, February 6, 2014

Dutton: Prototype by M.D. Waters

M.D. Waters: Romantic Conflict to Shred Your Heart

photo: Crystal Bingham

M.D. Waters lives with her family in Maryland. Archetype is her first novel. Its sequel, Prototype, will be published in July 2014. 

Tell us about the background of this novel. What inspired you?

First, I'm a total sucker for futuristic sci-fi movies, and it began with Star Wars. From the moment I saw The Empire Strikes Back as a child, I've always thought about Luke in that tank of water. I'm not sure why, but it fascinated me that to heal him, they put him in there. Later, I watched The Handmaid's Tale and never forgot the image of the women sleeping in cots inside a gym. I was too young to really understand the story, but that particular image stayed with me.

Those images, combined with multiple conversations with my dad, the conspiracy theorist, about how certain things perceived as good, or as improvements on our way of life, can turn bad. He told me about laws in modern China limiting the number of births due to overpopulation, and how fathers who want sons will go to terrible extremes when they end up with daughters instead.

When planning this world, I considered the overpopulation issue going worldwide and gave that fathers-wanting-sons scenario a "control the sex of your child in utero" possibility. I then added a few more what-ifs to make the situation really dire, combined my images from childhood, and added a few hundred years to show how the world might have evolved from that.

Archetype is an eclectic blend of science fiction and romance. Is it challenging to merge these very different genre traditions?

You know, I never considered that a challenge. So many of the movies I love have that romance element. I especially love stories where the romance is the motivation, even if it's only a small part, behind the goal. Not necessarily the typical hero saving the heroine plots, but the stories where they're fighting to stay together while outside forces want to drive them apart. The more conflicted, the better. The more action, the better. I love it all, and it came very naturally to me.

On that topic, are there particular authors or books that provided an influence for Archetype?

The answer lies not in science fiction, but in fantasy. I've always idolized Karen Marie Moning's ability to build a world the way she did in her Fever series. And Richelle Mead's romantic plots have always kept me on my toes. She goes for gut-wrenching conflict, which I love. I strived to do both of these things in Archetype: build a world you can feel, and add in romantic conflict that will shred your heart, because when I piece it back together.... Well, that's the best part.

Just for fun: the protagonist, Emma, is torn by her love of two very different men. Do you have a preference?

It depends on the day. I can't tell you how many times I sighed over Declan while writing him, but then I'd reach a scene with Noah and flip sides. And I love them for very different reasons. I adore how kind Declan is. How thoughtful and protective. And Noah? He's so darn sexy when he's angry! I love how he puts up a tough exterior, but under it all he's incredibly passionate. Humble, even.

Marriage and feminism, and how they may sometimes conflict, seems like a central theme.

That wasn't my intent, but I understand where some might think that. I liked the idea of taking a strong female character, turning her inside out, and placing her in a situation where she had only a semblance of control. I wanted her marriage to be a direct conflict with who she really is and see how she handled it. As things unraveled, would she succumb and accept the status quo, or find her independence and fight for her freedom? It could have gone either way, and believe me, I considered both equally, because in either version she'd have her conflict, but she'd also find a way to be happy.

In Archetype you've created a rich world of futuristic technology, sexual oppression, and a country at war. Will the sequel explore a different part of this world?

When setting out to write the sequel, Prototype, I couldn't wait to expand on those droplets of world-building I planted in Archetype. As you can imagine, writing in a single point of view, not to mention one with little to no memory, sets up some pretty huge road blocks. Anything I already knew about the world had to come up in natural conversation. It still does in the sequel, but was made easier by the fact that I had so many new settings to explore. I was able to take the small world in Archetype and really blow it out in Prototype. And not just the world, the technology, too.

Emma's travels include Mexico, Las Vegas and San Francisco, so you'll see how the other side lives. Some of the new details were a surprise even to me, so I'm pretty excited about it. I've also dug more into the resistance and brought in new characters that show a different point of view to everything Emma's dealing with. It's quite a ride. --Ilana Teitelbaum

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