Cover Image: Arch-Conspirator


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2.5 Stars

Arch-Conspirator is a fast-paced, futuristic dystopian story that is supposed to be a retelling of Antigone. I'm not familiar with that play and while I found Roth's story to be complex and intriguing, I also felt totally out of my depth with this book. There seemed to be a lot of information crammed into a very short book and at times, I felt utterly lost. I think if I had been familiar with the play this book is based on, I would have greatly benefited. Also, I found the ending of this story to be lacking. The reader is left with a ton of questions and not a whole lot of answers.

In the end, as much as I wanted to like this book, it was a complete miss for me.
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In a world where the dead live on through their genes which are stored in the Archive,  genes which are scrupulously chosen to create the perfect progeny, natural born children are seen as aberrations. Antigone and her siblings, the natural born children of their parents, are seen as unnatural and soulless, while their uncle Kreon is a represents all that is right and lawful in their world. When Antigone’s brothers kill one another in a coup gone wrong, Kreon abuses his power by denying one brother’s genes from being added to the Archive. Though Antigone does not believe in what the Archive represents, she does her utmost to honour her brother’s wishes and stand up to her uncle’s tyranny. 

Veronica Roth’s Arch Conspirator is a creative retelling of Sophocles’ Antigone, transposing the ancient tragedy to a future dystopian society.
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WOW. I chose this on a whim and read it straight through!! I didn’t know the story of Antigone before reading this. I’m glad I didn’t so I could read without any expectations. There were multiple POVs. It was very intriguing. I really enjoyed it. I haven’t read anything like this in months. It was a refreshing change of pace. This story is very short, but I think Roth executed it well. Thank you to the publisher and to NetGalley for the opportunity to read in exchange for a review!
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Review will be live at this link on 10th February:

Arch-Conspirator tells the story of Antigone, a play written in the 5th century BCE by Sophocles, an Athenian tragedian, as the third of his Theban plays. It follows on from Oedipus Tyrannus and Oedipus at Colonus, in the latter of which Oedipus has died and his daughters are returning to their home in Thebes, only after reassurance from Theseus that their father has received the appropriate burial rites. Which leads us into the key drama of Antigone - her brothers are dead, and she wishes to ensure that Polynices receives a respectable burial, just as Eteocles already has, and against the wishes of the men in power. It is a play about how some duties, some actions, weigh more heavily than simple laws, and the lengths to which we should go, in the face of overwhelming opposition, to do right. But it is also about how two people can have entirely different senses of justice, and for a large portion in the early part of the play, Kreon, Antigone's antagonist, has just as much reason to believe he has right on his side as she does. It is only once a revelation is provided that the gods concur with Antigone that he strays from righteous action (however lacking in mercy or compassion) into tyranny, and everything falls apart. Part of its enduring popularity - it is constantly restaged to this day - is that the themes are ones which really transcend the setting and can be endlessly reapplied to different contexts without losing their impact or emotional resonance.
And so, enter Veronica Roth, who has taken this play, and turned it into a novella set in a dystopian future. It's a world that has been wracked by unspecified horrors that have left much of it an irradiated wasteland. In this world, birth rates are waning, and so women are valued, protected and stifled because of their precious ability to bear children - they are reduced to walking wombs. It is also a harsh autocracy, with Kreon at the top controlling the city, and one in which, at death, everyone's gametes are gathered by a weird gizmo to be stored in an enduring catalogue of genes for... reasons. It's something that happens to all of the dead, regardless of their actions in life, and is a fundamental of their society.

As I imagine you can already see, we have the key ingredients here for a pretty faithful reimagining of the Greek setting - you have a single, oppressed, female figure standing alone in support of a core tenet of their society in the face of a tyrannical leader. Easy peasy, right?

And yet, Roth manages to get it so, so wrong.

Somehow, this manages to be both an incredibly beat for beat retelling of Antigone's story - to the extent that it will bore people who like their myths more... reimagined - and also full of weird little changes that will annoy anyone who just wants this story told as is. But more than that, it gives us nearly all of the plot beats of the original, but without any of the necessary connective tissue to hold it together and to really sell the emotion that is so fundamental to this story.

Some of this is because it is, quite simply, too short. I rarely think books ought to be in a different format than they are, but this absolutely needed to be a novel, not a novella. It feels rushed at every point, and especially at the end, and what has most been gutted out of it is the work that might have gone into developing the characters. Which is sorely needed.

As it stands, the characters have no chemistry, and barely any personality. They are reduced to their simplest iterations, with none of the nuance that could make them so fascinating to watch. Kreon, for example, is simply a man with too much power, using it wrongly. And while this is certainly part of his personality in the original text, it's not nearly all of it. His core problem is that he starts off with a... if not reasonable, then understandable point of view. He's punishing a traitor, in the hope of dissuading future dissent and finally getting some damn peace in his city. His abiding sin is that he cannot turn from his path, even when he is reliably informed that the gods are very much not on his side - he, and by extension, his city and those around him, suffer because of his hubris. I mean, it's a Greek tragedy, after all. But Roth's Kreon has none of this - he is simply a bad man who has power over a lot of people, using it badly. Frankly, you struggle to see how he got into this position at all. The man has no sense, no reason, and a total black hole where charisma might be, especially after his perspective chapter which has some of the dullest prose you may ever see.

Other characters are similarly poor - you get almost nothing of Ismene, except when needed for the plot to counter Antigone, and because she's had none of the buildup, her filling that role makes almost no sense. Likewise, Haemon, Kreon's son and Antigone's betrothed, barely turns up until suddenly, he's incredibly import, and everything just escalates wildly.

Which is another issue with the story - the pacing is all over the place. There never seems to be any buildup to what happens, the story just throws events up here and there, sometimes to the point where I found myself flipping back a few pages to figure out - did that really just happen? Where did that come from? Roth somehow manages to neither show, nor tell, only vaguely reference after the fact.

And so, when you get to some of the critical moments, they lack the emotional weight they ought to bear because we're just not ready for them. Antigone, in her original play, gets an absolutely glorious speech before Kreon and the people of the city, and absolute crowd-pleaser and a joy to listen to... and while she does get a speech in the novella it's somewhat stilted, abbreviated and above all, just not very good. You don't come out of it believing that anyone will have been made to think by it, and it's over before it can really sink its teeth into anything significant. It just feels there because, to be an Antigone retelling, she needs a speech and well, here you go. Tick that off the list.

But that trial is played to be a major pivot point in the plot - as it is in the play - and so you find yourself at odds with the story's own perception of itself as you read it, especially if you're familiar with the plot its harking back to.

And this is possibly the core of my problem with this story. Myth retellings, or reimaginings, necessarily exist in conversation with their original. They have to choose how they present that conversation to the reader - is it a reliable narration or not, is it a distant reimagining, told and retold and changed in the telling? But there's always that kernel of the original at the core, and for me, good retellings preserve a strand of the spirit of the original, or a reflection on what that original could have been or meant, even as they change potentially an enormous amount around it. But Roth... isn't in conversation with Antigone. Or if she is, she's not doing much talking. Instead, we get... essentially the SparkNotes of the story with a bit of SF flavour around the edges.

And maybe that would be fine, or good enough, if the SF flavour had been well-developed or interesting or novel, but it's not. Like much about this story, it could have very much done with some extra fleshing out, not so much in the facts and details, but in the emotionality of it, the context, the grounding of what's going on. We know the facts - we know about gendered oppression and the hardship of the world, the riots and the radiation - but we don't know how this is part of the texture of that world. Everything exists to serve its purpose to the strict centre of the story, and anything that might be flavour or atmosphere or simply there to bed us into things has been stripped out. So, again, it felt far, far too short. It's a rare book that could stand a few more heavy-handed paragraphs of exposition by a side character, but this is perhaps one of them. When this is your core - and nearly your only - point of difference with the myth you're retelling, surely then you need to make this the star of the show? Yes, it's exactly the Antigone you know, but hey, it's in a dystopian wasteland, so let's see how that affects things! And it's not. 

I say "nearly" only - there are a few deviations from the original plot, but they are few, mostly at the end, and seem not to serve anything but muddling any themes the story felt like it had. The tragedic elements are undermined, the pathos cut short, some of the characters robbed of their potential emotive force, and you're left wondering - what did I get out of this?

Or indeed, why was this written at all?

Which is always the problem with retellings - what does this bring to the story that we can't get from the original? Maybe the answer is "it's now a really compelling novel instead of a really compelling play". Maybe the answer is "putting it in space changes EVERYTHING" or "it's being used as a way of highlighting some very modern problems" or "finding a resonance with something that you might not have considered". There are lots of ways retellings can be done that say something fun or interesting or meaningful. At the moment, the one being chosen is mostly "but make it feminist" which is, y'know, fine. But when you take a play like Antigone, which I would argue is about as feminist as many of the modern ones, whose idea of feminism seems to be "give it a female protagonist", already... you need something better than that. It needs to be good, or interesting, or insightful, and Arch-Conspirator is none of those things.

And so it's a disappointment of a book, when it could have been at least moderately interesting. The critical sell of Antigone as a play is that Antigone is a complex figure who gets some absolutely banging speeches and appeals to very fundamental ideas of morality and duty and the debts we owe one another even into death that are more core than law, they're religion and just being human. She may not be likeable, but you have to respect that she is both brave and probably right, as well as being in just a really horrible situation. If you make the fundamental ideas that she's arguing about a bit less graspable, you risk losing the sympathy, and then if you don't develop her personality, you lose the sympathy the audience might give her, and if you then don't give her banging speeches, what even is her point? Roth has made Antigone drab, and denuded it of the meaning it already had, let alone reinvigorate it with any new ones.
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First, I'd like to thank Netgalley and the Publisher for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review, all opinions are my own.

Oh gosh where to start...

So, being that this is a retelling of Sophocles' <i>Antigone</i>, I decided to listen to the audiobook to refresh my memory.  

I kind of struggled though the first third of the book because there was a lot of world specific terminology that wasn't really explained or displayed through her writing. Then it would be continue to be talked about and wouldn't be explained until a few chapters went by. And then when it was explained, I had to reread everything over again so that I knew what was going on. 

I completely understand that some authors favor vague language for the mystery element, but these were key descriptor words that you have to know in order for the majority of the plot to make sense. ಠ_ಠ

Roth also changed little details from the original story that made no sense to me but would not have mattered in the slightest if the original wasn't fresh in my mind. so  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I was going to give it 3 stars, but I really really enjoyed the ending, which made up for my earlier frustrations. I doubt she'll be writing a sequel for a retelling, but I hope she does. I'd love to see what happens next.
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Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC! I grabbed this one because I am a fan of the author and also because-hello-Antigone retelling! While I appreciated the updated and twist on the old tale, it veered a bit too far for me, and I could not really get into it. The main character was likable, but some of the other characters just did not give me enough to feel like I got to know them and care about them. Her sister is in this for such a short amount of time, and because the perspectives change, I feel like you never really get a feel for them. Do not get me wrong, it does work; however, it just did not really work for me. It was a short read, and I am glad I picked it up, but it did not become a favorite or something I will talk about with others. FYI profanity and sexual situations
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This was a powerful novella. I feel like people will better understand the impact of it if they have read Antigone, or at least understand the jist of it though... Civil disobedience and the struggle for autonomy.
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While I did have a good time reading this, I think that because it was so short, it lacked the world building that a story like this needed. I felt a bit confused by many aspects of the world. I'm not familiar with the play Antigone, and if I was, I suspect I would have enjoyed this more.
That being said, I did have a decently good time reading this, it is very short, and Roth managed to make me feel very connected to the characters.
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This was good, but I found it a bit hard to follow at times for something so short. The writing almost felt a bit convoluted at times and got in the way of story progression.
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I really enjoyed this fantasy/sci-fi updated telling of the classic story of Antigone. The use of technology to rebirth souls is juxtaposed with the traditional royal family customs to give the tale a nice blend of ancient and futuristic. The characters in the new story were true to their original ones. While the elements around her are different, Antigone still gives everything to respect and preserve her family's honor. I did find the story a little too short to be able to offer a complete understanding of the system used to preserve souls and rebirth them, but it did not detract.
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This was such an interesting update on the story of Antigone and I really enjoyed it. I loved the sci-fi elements of the narrative and the post-apocalyptic setting was a fantastic way to reproduce the city state political set up of Ancient Greece. I really appreciated the fact that all of the names of the key players remained the same (I love the original play, so this was a real plus for me!) and thought Veronica Roth did an excellent job of updating the plot for a modern audience, while retaining all of the tragedy of the original. Overall, this was a really compelling and well written book and firmly cements Veronica Roth as someone I will continue to read going forward.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.
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Arch-Conspirator is a dystopian retelling of Antigone, and I unfortunately could not get behind it. So disappointing because I love Veronica Roth
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I would like to thank Tor/Forge for a digital copy of this novel via Netgalley. Arch-conspirators is a modern retelling of the Greek tragedy Antigone. Its setting is dystopian future where humans as a species are dying. For this reason, all citizens who pass away have their genes stored in the Archive, using a device known as the Extractor, so they can be reborn. The protagonist is Antigone, daughter of Oedipus and Jocasta. When Antigone's brother Polyneikes passes away tragically, no one is allowed to touch the body. What's more, his genes are forbidden from being submitted into the Archive. This novel sees Antigone fight authority, her own uncle Kreon, in order to be able to have her brother rest in peace. Its emphasis and exploration of gender roles as well as questioning a corrupt authority were well executed and did not feel contradictory to the original source material. This is a solid modern retelling of a classic.
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I would like to start by saying that I LOVED Veronica Roth's Divergent series, Carve the Mark duology, The Chosen Ones, The End and Other Beginnings and Poster Girl. This title, Arch-Conspirator, is a future dystopian version of Sophocles' tragic story of Antigone. I enjoyed the retelling, but it felt incomplete. Hence only 3 of 5 stars. It lost a star to the lack of character development and another star to the lack of world building. When the book ended, I did not feel anything for the characters who died or were sent to their death, and I really didn't care about what happened to any of the remaining characters.
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You can't turn around these days without a fairytale or mythological retelling popping up. Some are smart and provide genuine joy at reading a new twist on an old story and some are just "easy to read" versions for the "modern" reader. If you are looking to experience a science-fiction, dystopian, and feminist retelling of Antigone, let me direct you to the short story/novella (128 pages) Arch-Conspirator. There are viruses, gene editing, power plays, citizen uprisings, arranged marriages, and a spaceship--this is definitely unlike any other mythological retelling I've ever read.
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A futuristic retelling of Antigone, told through multiple viewpoints. 
There was a lot going on here, in addition to being a retelling of an older story, that I think  deserved a longer treatment than a novella. There was a whole world, (extracting DNA instead of natural born babies... destroyed planet... )that felt a little unexplained. 
Overall, interesting tale, but felt more like the lead in to a bigger story.
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I need to thank Veronica Roth for giving me a "read past your bedtime" experience like I haven't had in years. I closed this book at 2 am, y'all. I had read the whole thing in a single go. 

It's a pretty literal retelling of the tale of Antigone, which I hadn't read since sixth grade. Living in the household of the tyrant responsible for her parents' death, engaged to his son, trying to be dutiful and responsible to keep her siblings alive, Antigone's life has no room for error. When her brothers kill each other in a standoff where each is on the opposing side, she defies the strict confines of her culture to do what's right for the 'wrong' brother who is denied proper funeral rites. In the process she creates an ethical dilemma for the tyrant: was what she has done morally right, and if not, will the punishment be a moral solution?

Except here, Roth has taken the story a step further by bringing in something that affects us all: reproductive rights. The right to chose whether or not you want to carry a child, which, here, is an obligation for every woman. Women are seen as walking wombs, vessels for the future of a dying planet and race.  Roth creates a culture that has basically turned DNA into a religion, where natural born children are seen as not having a soul, where the only way for humanity to survive is to continue mixing and matching the past so as to take not a single risk on the present. 

And it's haunting. 

If anything, I would have wished Roth went deeper, and make the Antigone story more her own. But the creativity along with the obvious anger that suffuses the novel made this book impossible to put down.
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I had never read the original story that Arch-Conspirator is adapted from, so I entered into reading this story with a fresh perspective and no expectations. Veronica Roth once again delivers an intriguing dystopian story. Antigone is a young woman living in a world where humans are afraid of population decline and so found a way to preserve a person’s soul through extracting their ichor and saving it in an archive. This allows future families to use their ichor for reproduction. The focus on population also means that fertile women are highly precious, keeping our main character, Antigone, and most women, from being able to live life the way they would like. The conflict in this story is rooted around that problem and also political and family turmoil. The ending twist left a lot to the imagination, but I think it was appropriate. Rory’s writing is beautiful, yet I was not able to get immersed in this world and kept having to remind myself that they live in an advanced society with advanced technology. My brain kept wanting to think of this world aa rugged and less developed. Since the world building didn’t completely connect with me and immerse me, I give this 4 out of 5. However, Arch-Conspirator is a great quick read fantasy dystopian for all interested in the genre. I highly recommend this story and hope it becomes another beloved story by Roth.
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My thanks to both NetGalley and the publisher Tor Publishing Group for an advance copy of this science fiction novel that draws on a classic tale to tell of a future dying Earth and a young woman with ideas of revenge. 

Classic stories are ones that people remember because of the timeless nature of both the story and the characters involved. Tales that continue to speak to readers and listeners from over the years, decades, centuries, even millennia. A story that was told by firelight, to lantern light, to LED to well the way humans are going back to firelight once more. The story of Antigone is one of a young woman's defiance to unjust rules, the power of family, and even the subjugation of her gender, along with a proud ruler so sure of being right, so sure that his maleness being always in the right, sees those around him destroyed by his weakness to declare that he was wrong. A story that can be told again and again in numerous ways, even a science fiction setting. Veronica Roth in the book Arch-Conspirator, takes the story of Antigone to a dystopian dying Earth, and tells of a young woman facing an unknow future with her family and legacy in the balance.

The book opens with the death of Antigone's parents, Jocasta and Oedipus, murdered and leaving the throne open for the taking. Antigone's uncle Kreon, a man with a strong military background and a want for battle, takes power and offers his protection and shelter to Antigone and her remaining family. The city is the last shelter on a dying earth, and there is no where for her to go. Compounding this is the fact that babies being born today, are born without souls and most be provided with them by the Archive the last repository for human DNA. Events are set into place that will cause these two to clash, and many others will fall because of it. 

A short novel, probably a novella, that is a pretty straight retelling of the story from Sophocles with some additions and science fictional elements. A lot of authors are doing retelling of myths and older tales, which just goes to show the power and resonance these pieces continue to have. The writing is good, the characters could use a little breathing room, they seem introduced and sent off, without a feeling of why they are doing things. The idea of the Archieve is interesting, almost a Babylon 5 kind of idea with human souls being shared. My biggest problem is really the length. I'm not sure why this is so short, not with all the ideas that are discussed. There is a lot going on, and it would have been nice to have them fleshed out a little. I've noticed that in a few different books that are retelling of classical stories. Nothing has time to grow, or to be of importance to the reader. Still this was a good retelling with good ideas. 

Recommended for fans of Veronica Roth, and for people intrigued by classic stories and what can be done to incorporate them into modern or even science fiction or fantastical stories.
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4.5/5 stars. Foremost, I would like to thank Netgalley and Tor Books for an eARC. Arch-Conspirator is an Antigone ancient Greek tragedy reimagining. 

It takes place in the last city on Earth, due to radiation. Antigone's parents are murdered, which then Antigone and her siblings are taken in by her uncle who has now taken over the throne. The city has what is called an Archive where all the genes of the dead are stored. Genes are collected after someone passes away with an instrument called an "extractor". The extractor essentially extracts "ichor" or in other words eggs or sperm. People are no longer allowed to have natural born children. Natural born children are said to be soulless and usually die young. 

I consumed this novella within just a few hours. Very fast paced and will keep your attention throughout. I wasn't familiar with the original Antigone playwright, but it didn't keep me from enjoying the story. The characters were enjoyable, especially Antigone. The multiple POVS is always a plus for me. I wish there was more elaboration on certain things, more twists, and more of an explanation of the ending. Most of those just weren't possible with it being a novella. I WANT MORE! Highly recommend if you're interested in a short, fast-paced, dystopian spin on an ancient Greek tragedy.
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