I received an advance reader’s copy (ARC) of Arch-Conspirator by Veronica Roth. Since this version is just a proof and not the final version, I won’t quote directly and will keep my comments general.
In Arch-Conspirator, Veronica Roth retells the story of Antigone, now set in a futuristic, post-apocalyptic city that’s filled with the last remnants of humanity. These people now survive through gene editing and are under the strict rule of Kreon, Antigone’s uncle. But when Antigone’s brother tries to stand up to Kreon’s leadership and is killed, Antigone must make a choice about how she will choose to live her own life, and how she will honor those who came before her.
I really enjoyed Antigone by Sophocles when I read it in college, so it took very little convincing for me to read this novella. Honestly, all I had to hear was “sci-fi retelling of Antigone” and I was sold. And generally, I wasn’t disappointed.
I think the entire concept of this story was pretty brilliant, transplanting the ancient Greek world and characters to this futuristic city that’s barely scraping by. Considering how much of Antigone’s story is influenced by her parentage, it makes sense to have genetics a major factor in this version, and I think it was done well. Some of the details about how reproduction works here seemed a little murky, but it didn’t affect my comprehension of the overall story.
That said, I don’t know that Kreon’s stance makes much sense here. Without going into specifics, he believes that Antigone and her siblings have no soul, and therefore there is no use in saving their genes. I’m not sure this makes sense, since obviously these people have an understanding of genetics, so I would think that having viable DNA and eggs/sperm in such a dire world would still be valuable, souls aside. But maybe I missed something.
Speaking of Kreon, I think it was interesting that Roth changed him from being Jocasta’s brother to being Oedipus’. Honestly, it kind of makes sense—being Oedipus’ brother makes a more direct foil between those two, and Antigone’s relationship with her brother. It was kind of clever, and I can’t complain.
On another note, I was pleased to see that Roth’s writing has evolved, especially considering the last book I read by her was Allegiant, which wasn’t my favorite novel. Her decision to portray multiple points of view, not just Antigone’s, was a good idea and I liked that it gave some depth and breadth to the situation. And luckily, this choice didn’t really take away any of Antigone’s power, which I was concerned about. But she remains the strongest and most memorable character, as it should be.
The ending of the story, though likely not a spoiler (this is an ancient Greek tragedy, after all), feels somewhat disappointing. After getting to know Antigone, you wish for a different ending for her. But the rather hollow victory that Kreon has, also laced with sorrow and pain, lends a decent amount of complexity to the situation. It’s not that the villain wins, it’s that no one really does. But at the same time, if you look at it a certain way, Antigone wins.
In the end, Arch-Conspirator was a thought-provoking retelling that presents intriguing questions, with no easy answers. The characters are well-formed, and the setting fascinating. Overall, this feels like the older, more mature cousin of Divergent—a story exploring the last remnants of society surrounded by a wasteland, a focus on genetics, and a tragic heroine. It’s not the greatest story I’ve ever read, but it’s still a powerful work, brief but still able to pack quite a punch.
Arch-Conspirator will be published on February 21st, 2023!