Book Review: Latchkey by Nicole Kornher-Stace

Title:Latchkey

Author: Nicole Kornher-Stace

Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy, YA, Adventure, Post-Apocalypse/Dystopia

Publisher: Mythic Delirium Books
Publication date: July 10 2018
Paperback: 336

Isabel, once known as Wasp, has become leader of the fearsome upstarts, the teen girl acolytes who are adjusting to a new way of life after the overthrow of the sadistic Catchkeep-priest. They live in an uneasy alliance with the town of Sweetwater—an alliance that will be tested to its limits by the dual threats of ruthless raiders from the Waste and a deadly force from the Before-time that awaits in long-hidden tunnels.

Years ago Isabel befriended a nameless ghost, a supersoldier from the Before-time with incredible powers even after death, and their adventure together in the underworld gave her the strength and knowledge to change the brutal existence of the Catchkeep acolytes for the better. To save Sweetwater, Isabel will have to unlock the secrets of the twisted experimental program from centuries gone by that created the supersoldier and killed his friends: the Latchkey Project.

Latchkey continues the story begun in Kornher-Stace’s widely acclaimed Archivist Wasp, an Andre Norton Award finalist that was selected by Kirkus Reviews as one of the Best Teen Books of 2015.

Stand alone or series: Sequel to Archivist Wasp

How did I get this book: Review copy

Format (e- or p-): Print

Review

It’s been three years since I read what has become one my favourite books of recent times. Archivist Wasp by Nicole Kornher-Stace was, and I can’t stress this enough, a book as close to perfection as it can be, a book made for me, a book that made my top 10 that year and one that I have been screaming about to anyone who will listen: buy this, read this, enjoy this.

It was also a book that ended on a perfect note: at the end of it, our protagonist Wasp had journeyed to the underground and back, helped the ghost of a supersoldier find his BFF, revolutionized her world by defeating the abusive Priest that controlled her life and liberated the Archivist upstarts. AND she also remembered her own name: Isabel.

When I learned there was going to be a sequel, I was both ecstatic and scared… but I did not need to fear.

Latchkey opens three years after the end of Archivist Wasp. Three years since Isabel’s life changed, since she closed the door on the nameless ghost and on Foster, thinking they are gone forever. She did that because she is an Archivist to the core, and it is a MISSION and a DUTY she still has to fulfil and as hard as that was, it was the right thing to do. Or so it seemed at the time. Regrets, she has a few.

But things are not quite the same for Isabel. She doesn’t know if she is part ghost now, if she is still able to fight as well as she could back then and on top of that, Isabel has become the de factor leader of the teen girl upstarts. They live just outside the town of Sweetwater in a precarious, cautious alliance that is shaken to its core when Sweetwater is attacked by raiders.

Tasked with saving the lives of those she can and protecting the town, Isabel will look to the underground world of the Before-Time, the buried remains of a building that belonged to the infamous Latchkey project, a place plagued by the ghosts of killed supersoldiers. Its secrets, once unlocked, might prove to be the key to survival.

And then she finds out that the nameless ghost and Foster are still there. And had been waiting for her all this time.

Latchkey took my breath away in different little – and big – ways.

It is a book that lives in many intersections. The one between memory, knowledge and identity is perhaps the most obvious one. An Archivist is a person who actively seeks to learn about a long-forgotten past through the interrogation of its ghosts. Ghosts whose memories are gone, whose very identities are lost to time. The nameless ghost, Isabel’s friend and ally, is a prime example of that. Here he remains nameless still, struggling to keep a hold of the little memory and sense of self that he can. Same with Foster, whose memory is slowly eroding.

All of this is extrapolated to become the very point of the Latchkey project – the more ghosts Isabel, the ghost and Foster find, the more they learn about not only about the project but also about Archivists, their duties and the half-truths behind their existence.
Isabel’s revolutionary changes only just started in Archivist Wasp and in Latchkey they are put to the test and developed further not only in the new social order but how their belief system can be (re)interpreted. But the biggest change of course, comes into how Isabel is now part of a larger social group. The nature of her duties as an Archivist prior to the events in these novels held her apart and alone for most of her life. But now she has a found family with the upstarters that she trains and look after and with the nameless ghost and Foster too. The lengths this group will go for one another is inspiring and so freaking cool. There are so many words that are left unsaid here but actions speak louder. A prime example of show-not-tell.

So to recap: a post-apocalyptic science fiction story with the GHOSTS of supersoldiers who have retained their superpowers, if not their memories, intact. A story about found families and friendship. A plot that features the investigation into the murder of multiple people twinned with the mystery at the HEART of the archivist’s power itself. The arc of a young warrior girl who has found a best friend and a family in the most unlikely way.

It is a tall order for a book – any book, but specially a sequel – to live up to the perfection that was Archivist Wasp but Latchkey comes really close indeed.

Rating: 8 – Excellent and leaning toward 9.

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