Cover Image: Arch-Conspirator


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A retelling of Antigone. I love Roth's books - I think I've read them all -- but I didn't really enjoy this one. Roth is so creative, I prefer when she writes her oown stories.

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This novella was a loose retelling of Antigone. Arch-Conspirator is in a dystopian future (date unknown) in the last city on Earth. In this dystopian city, women are a prized commodity, natural-born children are known to be “soulless,” and there’s an Archive where the genes of the dead are stored.

This novel was an interesting retelling of Antigone. There were just so many complex themes that Roth was trying to explore in this very short novella. I felt like some themes missed the mark. For example, the Greek tragedy is more explicit about women’s role in society, which is why it’s so important when Antigone defies Kreon. However, this retelling eluded to how women were supposed to act and be portrayed in society, but it wasn’t a strong theme. Therefore, I didn’t think the impact of Antigone’s actions was that impactful. Also, I would have loved to know a little bit more about the setting, the politics of the society and more world-building to help situate the story better.

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“If a soul endures, then perhaps—it simply endures, no matter what we do.”

Arch-Conspirator is a retelling of Antigone set in a dystopian world where the genes of the dead are preserved to be used again. After Antigone’s parents are killed during a rebel revolt, her and her siblings live with their uncle who is now in power and Antigone is given a mission that may be impossible to complete.

This was an interesting, fast-paced, dystopian read. Although I’m not familiar right the original story of Antigone, I was surprised by how much I grew to like the characters in such a short amount of time. I loved the multiple POVs and felt like each character was developed nicely. This book brought up a lot of interesting topics and themes that I wish could’ve been explored in more depth, such as women’s bodily autonomy, the civil disobedience in this society, what makes a soul, and the harvesting of DNA to preserve humanity. It felt like many topics were introduced, but not many points were made. Overall, I enjoyed reading this but wish there was more time to fully develop the messages.

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A SciFi retelling of Antigone? YES PLEASE! As a philosophy nerd, I was so excited when I saw that Arch-Conspirator by Veronica Roth is a retelling of Antigone by Sophocles. The novel takes place in a futuristic society where it is seen as wrong to have children without first editing your genes. Antigone is one of four children who were conceived naturally, an abomination in her society. When her brother is killed and her uncle decrees that no one can extract his cells in order to place them in the Archive, Antigone knows she must do something. However, with the threat of execution looming over her head, things are not as simple as they seem.

I absolutely loved what Roth did with this wonderful story! There were enough elements that mirrored the original play, but also some interesting touches that updated the story as well. I appreciated the fact that Roth used the original names from the play. I enjoyed how she put a spin on the original twist of incest, but pretty much removed the creepy undertones. The way in which she stuck to the original plot was wonderful as well.

There were a few differences from the original play that I found entertaining. First, the fact that this story takes place in a futuristic and dystopian society added an interesting spin. Roth took Antigone’s original story, which is pretty far removed from our society today, and morphed it into something that feels plausible, akin to what George Orwell did with 1984. The society was not too far-fetched and had elements that made me feel like our world could go in that direction.

Similarly, I thought Roth slightly improved Antigone’s relationship with Haemon. In Sophocles’ play, I felt like their relationship felt a little too forced and inauthentic. In Arch-Conspirator I enjoyed how Roth showed their relationship from both Antigone’s and Haemon’s point of views, suggesting a long-term attraction on his part, and more of an enemies-to-lovers style on hers.

Overall, if there was anything I didn’t enjoy about this book, it was that it is only a novella, and I would have loved to read more about these characters. Whether you’re a fan of the original play or not, I highly recommend this book!

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Veronica Roth has this incredible ability to craft a spear, to show its shape and draw a whetstone over its blade, and STILL surprise me when it’s turned on me and parts flesh and bone (and expectations) so easily. A novella often requires a careful balancing act between the said and unsaid, and most writers who are used to novels will accidentally be trampled by the unsaid and writers who are used to short stories will say altogether too much. Roth has nailed that balance by giving us the sharpest edges of the dystopian world we’re in and letting them cut deep enough to give us the full shape.

I liked seeing all the sides of this messy smaller microcosm of the overall issue: seeing even the tiniest snippets of POV from everyone directly involved did so much to show depth and highlight how differently the characters viewed their situations.

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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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