Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Recent Reading: Archivist Wasp and Latchkey by Nicole Kornher-Stace

Okay, maybe it took me five years to read Latchkey, but (a) that’s by no means a record for how long a book has sat around on my TBR pile. Not even close. And (b) anyway, the delay was partly because I definitely wanted to re-read Archivist Wasp first and generally, not always, I prefer to delay a re-read until I’ve forgotten a reasonable amount of the story.

You may recall that I really loved Archivist Wasp when I first read it. You can read my comments about that book here. On a re-read, yep, still love the story. If anything, I enjoyed the re-read more because I knew certain things about the ending would be highly satisfying.

So, Latchkey. When I saw the cover, I didn’t realize the town was on fire! Check out the full spread of the cover art. Yep, there is considerable drama regarding the fate of the town in the story. Not exactly from being put to the torch. More on that later.

Now, Nicole says that she poured Archivist Wasp out onto the page in a single burning swoosh of writerly obsession, whereas Latchkey was much more heavily revised during the drafting process. It would be so interesting to see the earliest complete draft, if she started with a complete draft rather than re-writing in pieces, because the final version is . . . hmm. It’s much more cluttered than Archivist Wasp, with different pieces that all have to fit together. And they do! Latchkey is a cohesive whole, with a dramatic frame story of invasion and ordinary battle wrapped around an even more dramatic underlying story about loyalty, commitment, memory, and most of all identity. I wonder if getting that to work is one of the things that had to be done during revision.

Let me see. Okay. So we start with Wasp, now Isobel, more or less integrated into the town. We see a bit of the girls who used to be upstarts and a bit of the other townspeople; we get a pretty good feel for their lives. Let me just mention that I’m extremely glad not to live in that world and definitely would not want to visit. Even when things are going well, this is … well, it’s basically a look at a postapocalyptic dystopian world when things have settled down and ordinary people are just trying to get by and pretty well making it day by day. But even if people are kind of doing okay, it’s still fundamentally a postapocalyptic dystopian world.

During this part of the story, we don’t see the ghost at all. There are reasons for that, which the astute reader will surmise almost at once, though those reasons are laid out explicitly later. Anyway, things happen and a quite horrible, revolting enemy town attacks, and various complications ensue, and the ghost finally turns up about 30% of the way into the story. From then on, the theme of identity becomes really central (though that was always a strong theme, right from the beginning).

The ghost is an even more amazing character in this novel, now that we know him a little better, and come to think of it, so is Isobel. They (and others) get into worse and worse (and worse) situations, and let me tell you, I would have been too tense to enjoy the story as much except the ending of Archivist Wasp implied that Kornher-Stace would pull off a decent ending this time as well. Which she did. Part of it I saw coming, part of it I thought the author would pull off somehow (she did), and part of it I guessed wrong about. Put it all together and it was (almost) as satisfying as the ending to the first book.

Is there room for a sequel? Absolutely. Does the story need a sequel? No. This is a satisfying duology as it stands.

Who would love this book: Readers who appreciate prickly but fiercely loyal protagonists, and like a story that centers friendship rather than romance. Readers who like the sort of thriller where things get worse and worse, but finally wind up with a (plausible) satisfying ending – not necessarily cheerful, but good. Readers who like dystopian settings – this is not exactly a dystopian novel; Latchkey in particular lacks some important defining qualities of YA dystopia; but anyone who enjoys YA dystopias would probably love this story.

And if you haven’t yet read Archivist Wasp, then by all means pick that one up first and then go on to Latchkey.

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