Book Review: Arch-Conspirator by Veronica Roth

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

Arch-Conspirator by Veronica Roth

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Tor Books (February 21, 2023)

Length: 128 pages

Author Information: Website

Not gonna lie, I probably should’ve been paying more attention in high school when my Lit class did Antigone, but hey, apparently enough got through. There’s a lot to appreciate about Arch-Conspirator by Veronica Roth, not least of which is how closely this sci-fi retelling hews to the original Athenian tragedy by Sophocles.

The setting is the distant future. We are on Earth, but the planet has become a wasteland. To preserve what’s left of humanity, the genetic material of those who die are extracted and stored away in a repository called the Archive. Every person still living is a gift, every viable womb precious, but women no longer have children naturally. Instead, most choose to procreate by selecting desirable traits for their offspring from the Archive, with those who were conceived the natural way shunned for being soulless.

For this reason, Antigone and her siblings are considered outcasts in their society, despite their parents Oedipus and Jocasta being the leaders of the last city where the remnants of humanity still cling to life. When her parents are murdered, however, Antigone and her sister are taken in by their traitorous uncle Kreon who keeps his nieces alive even after seizing the throne because of the value they represent: vessels to bring forth the future generation.

As you can see, there’s no shortage of challenges to writing a sci-fi reimagining of an ancient classic, which requires bringing together elements that by all accounts should not mix well or readily. Yet Roth manages to pull it off, using the setting to her advantage. Important details of people, events, and places from Antigone are woven into the greater dystopian backdrop which includes exploration of subjects like love, freedom, duty and power, both on personal and societal levels. While it may help if you are familiar with the original play, it is also not a requirement, as I believe the larger themes and ideas can speak for themselves.

As you may have noticed, Arch-Conspirator is also a thin volume coming in at a little over 100 pages, which made for a quick read. That said, the advantage of its brevity is somewhat offset by the sparsity of detail, and I mean, this story is lean. On the one hand, I don’t think an Antigone retelling needs much extra padding; you want to hit that sweet spot where you let knowledge of the source material fill in any gaps, and any overwriting may in fact get in the way and prompt unnecessary questions. But still. Some of the themes could have been made more impactful if we’d had more time to expand and ruminate on them, and I think I would have felt a stronger connection to Antigone if her character had been developed further.

Still, the fact that I looked forward to seeing how the conflict will resolve and that the story still managed to surprise me speaks volumes. I felt invested in the plot, I cared about what happened to Antigone and her sister, and I was never given the chance to be bored. Veronica Roth has come a long way since her Divergent days, this is not your usual retelling or paint-by-numbers dystopian sci-fi where everything is spelled out for you. Arch-Conspirator is a compact but sophisticated novella that takes the general framework of Antigone and brings forth an in-depth exploration into hard questions and tough choices in an unsettling futuristic world.

20 Comments on “Book Review: Arch-Conspirator by Veronica Roth”

  1. * channels Obi-wan *
    “Oedipus. Now there’s a name I haven’t heard in a long time.”

    Anytime I see that name, I’m out of there! I don’t care if it’s just a mention…


  2. Antigone doesn’t ring any bells. Is that because we never covered it in school? Or is it because I wasn’t the greatest student and just don’t remember it? 🙂 Do you think it’s too sparse for someone completely unfamiliar with the source material to enjoy?


  3. Pingback: Bookshelf Roundup 03/12/23: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads | The BiblioSanctum

  4. Great review, Mogsy:). I don’t recall the story of Antigone, other than it didn’t end well for the female protagonist – but then, that’s the norm for Greek myths anyway. I love the sound of this one.


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