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Review: In gripping debut novel, M.D. Waters explores how much of us is memory vs. genetics

This book cover image released by Dutton shows

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This book cover image released by Dutton shows "Archetype," by M.D. Waters. (AP Photo/Dutton)

"Archetype" (Dutton), by M.D. Waters

If you were born again but lacked the memories of this lifetime, would you be you? And if you weren't, who would you be?

Those are the fundamental questions in M.D. Waters' gripping debut novel. Emma wakes from an accident to an enviable situation. She's married to an attractive and wealthy man who wants nothing more than to make her happy.

But slowly, lies surface. Despite claims that they have been married for years, her doting husband is surprised by her talent as an artist. He buys her a perfume that she's allergic to.

And then there is the voice in her head — another woman who shares memories of a camp where women are trained to be obedient wives, a water-filled tank from which she cannot escape, and perhaps most disturbingly, love for another man.

Emma becomes convinced that she is the voice in her head and that she was plucked from a previous life that she can barely remember.

The truth, when it comes, is even more disturbing. She shares genes with the woman who is the voice in her head, but she is not her; Emma is a clone. The husband she loves is not hers. The child she longs for is not her daughter.

The revelation leaves Emma reeling and sets off a chain of events that destroys her life and that of her original.

"Archetype" is the literary equivalent of a big-screen blockbuster with its beautiful but deadly heroine, tragic love triangle and grim futuristic setting. The closest thing in print may be Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale," but Emma is Offred with mixed martial arts training. Given a chance to flee the male-dominated, baby-obsessed culture in which she has been ensnared, Emma picks up a gun and goes down fighting.

Except that's not the end.

"Archetype" finishes with a cliffhanger made even more tantalizing by Dutton's promise to publish the sequel, "Protoype," in six months. The prospect has me more excited than the next "Hunger Games" movie.


Follow M.L. Johnson on Twitter at .



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