“I want to laugh. Maybe Emma Burke would exit this room without a word, but I am not that woman any more.
Pulling free of Foster’s grip, I spin so fast Noah and Reid stop arguing to stare in bewildered silence.
‘You will not keep me here, Major Reid,’ I tell him, but shift my focus between both men in case Noah decides to join Reid’s crusade. ‘I dare you to try.’“
– Prototype, MD Waters
In the follow-up to the dystopian Archetype, Prototype by MD Waters finishes the story of Emma Wade-Burke, a woman on the run in a future version of the United States where fertile women are in scare supply, surveillance is everywhere, and a band of resistance fighters is gearing up for a war against the business elite who are keeping some serious secrets. Told from Emma’s first person present perspective, Archetype had a claustrophobic quality as Emma struggled to regain her memories within the prison of the hospital she awakens in and the home she shares with her husband Declan. Book two opens after Emma has discovered the truth about herself (spoilers after the cut) and the sinister role Declan has played in both her forgotten past and in society at large.
Declan, who fell to his death and reawakened as a clone at the end of Archetype, is desperate to get Emma back. His forces have been looking for her all year. She, in turn, has come to grips with the fact that she is a clone as well, and that the woman she was cloned from is dead. She may share DNA and memories with the first Emma, but she is not the same person—or is she? On the run in search of her parents, hoping for more connection to her history and a better understanding of the Resistance her first self was an integral part of, she has shed much of her timidity from the first book. It’s fun to watch her come into her own, sharing some of her first self’s personality while becoming her own person.
Cornered and out of options, Emma returns to the Resistance base to take shelter with Noah, the man who was the first Emma’s husband. She is met with suspicion from some Resistance members, who are sure she is spying for her current husband, their greatest enemy. And Emma has some complicated feelings for Noah, made more difficult by the fact that he and Emma have a young daughter, Adrienne—a daughter for whose birth the current Emma’s consciousness was present in the former Emma’s body. Confusing? Yes, but it makes for some excellent fraught emotional encounters and allows Waters to question what makes someone both an individual and a mother. Noah is a largely unlikeable character, a gruff bad boy for the sake of being a gruff bad boy, but his difficulty with his feelings for the clone of his dead wife are palpable and well written.
Waters is excellent with pacing as the current Emma learns that she’s a kick-ass warrior, makes friends with people the former Emma hated, and joins a plan to take Declan and his consortium down. Her faltering relationship with the child she wants desperately to claim as her own daughter is touching, though other secondary characters and subplots are uneven. Wise mentor Peter and rival-turned-friend Leigh are fleshed out, while others never break free of their one-dimensional roles. As with Archetype, this is a very me-centric story. Everyone exists to further Emma’s journey of self-discovery.
Unfortunately, Waters goes for not one but two classic YA-style love triangles. Ignoring the fertile ground to explore the science in this sci-fi world, Waters instead takes many pages for Emma to flit between her feelings for Declan, the known bad guy who claims still to love her, and Noah, who pushes her away but who is perhaps her one true love. Noah, meanwhile, is torn between Sonya, the woman he is living with and raising Adrienne with, and Emma. Where the philosophical and ethical minefield between Emma and Noah would have made for a strong romantic subplot, the story is instead awash in melodrama. These characters may be in their twenties and thirties, but the tone, Emma’s narration, and the over-the-top love triangles feel like they would be better suited to characters in their teens. (You’ll notice the two covers at the beginning of the post, symbolic of the book’s struggle: it reads like a YA that wants to be a gritty adult dystopian novel. The cover on the left, which is much more YA in feel, was the original, while the book is now being issued with straight-ahead sci-fi image on the right.)
Still, in many ways this book is more successful than its predecessor. Emma now knows that she is a clone. Where much of the first book was about her confinement as she learns the truth about herself, this one focuses on action. We get to see a bit more world-building here, though it doesn’t go far enough. Why is the United States divided, for example? What other sorts of technology beyond cloning and transporters exists? What’s going on in the rest of the world? While these questions remain unanswered, the book is nonetheless a page-turner. Emma’s emotional struggle with who she is to other people, who she is in relation to the past Emma, and who she is to herself, is just as engrossing as the fight scenes.
While the book doesn’t quite hit its mark as groundbreaking science fiction, it’s nonetheless a quick, compelling read. Prototype is a solid action story with a thoughtful undercurrent about the meaning of humanity and individuality.
Three and a half out of five blue pencils
Prototype by MD Waters, published in Canada by Dutton, © 2014
Book provided to me by Penguin Canada in exchange for a fair review.
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