Judging from the plot of M.D. Waters’ debut novel, Archetype, she draws her inspiration from Total Recall, The Stepford Wives, and Children Of Men. But with its badass heroine, complicated love triangle, and dystopian setting, this novel most closely resembles an R-rated young-adult novel that has cut out most of the moping currently permeating that genre and replaced it with hot sex.
While not a great or particularly original novel, Waters knows how to take a good idea and reweave a few tropes to make a compelling page-turner. The story follows Emma, a woman who awakes in a hospital with no memories, but is told by her doting, handsome, rich husband, Declan, that she's recovering from a terrible accident. Under the scrutiny of a menacing doctor who's constantly prodding her with tests and questions, Emma starts remembering a different life spent alternately in a prison camp, living with another man, and leading military missions.
As Emma tries to reconcile those memories with what Declan tells her, Waters offers glimpses into the world at large, a future where a combination of male-preferential gender selection and an unexplained drop in female fertility has turned child-bearing women into a valuable commodity. In much of the United States, young women are rounded up and kept in camps until age 18 when they are branded and sold as a wife or placed into an appropriate job like beautician or office assistant. Birth control and abortion are illegal.
Waters’ commentary on gender politics is pretty blunt, but she never gets too preachy. Instead the story is mostly a thriller as Emma tries to lie her way out of increasingly perilous situations; something as simple as painting the wrong type of seagull can get her busted for remembering things she shouldn’t. The other major characters are male, and, considering the concept, it would be easy for the protagonist to lack agency, dependent on the men around her for answers and safety. But Emma has “Her,” a snarky voice inside her head that’s at war with the innocent amnesiac, pushing her along the road to self-discovery even when she'd rather just accept the person she’s told she is.
Archetype is technically science fiction, with people teleporting around and soldiers armed with plasma weapons, but Waters never bothers explaining any of the technology. Emma doesn’t care about science, and since she narrates the tale, whenever an explanation for the goings-on might be expected, Waters is saved from actually producing one by having the character simply tune out. After all, that’s really just the window dressing setting the stage for the emotional story about trust and identity Waters actually wants to tell.
Sticking to another YA tradition, Archetype isn’t a standalone novel. If the idea of a somewhat-smutty version of The Hunger Games seems appealing, the sequel, titled Prototype, is due out in July.