What publisher: Luna/Harlequin
Where did you get it: Netgalley e-arc
Publishing date: Out now
Blurb taken from Goodreads
Someone once said that all apocalypses are experienced locally. In the case of Cass Dollar, the nightmare occurred with the violent abduction of two-year-old Ruthie, which she vividly remembers. Only later is young Cass assaulted also by the vague, twisting memories of a much wider conflagration that she herself only narrowly survived. A government experiment had turned the entire California landscape into the hunting grounds of zombie Beaters, but Cass can only think of the helpless toddler she is missing.
Aftertime is a chilling and gritty dystopian fantasy with a flawed and realistic heroine who is determined to be reunited with her daughter. She awakens and emerges from being a Beater (a live zombie), after the world has fallen into chaos from attacks by terrorists, and famine. She also has to evade Beaters due to genetically engineered food gone nightmarishly wrong, and who run rampage in the world where extemist religious and political groups try to gain control in a world where there is a power vacuum.
The descriptions and setting of the landscape is stark and at times really chilling, and I found Cass’ emergence or awakening from being a beater juxtaposes really well with her past (which was shown in flashback) and her dark past about her alcoholism. Throughout the book, it covers and unveils her first journey to regaining Ruthie who she loses in a custody battle due to her alcoholism, and losing Ruthie again during the chaos of an attack by a group of Beaters.
A mother’s love is a dominant theme in this book, and it is real love story of the book. Her guilt and grief of her child whom she lost during a custody battle, whilst dealing with her inner demons of her past and alcoholism, mirrored with her quest when she lost Ruthie a second time when she became a Beater. I really felt that this added a lot of depth and there were stark truths and emotions that was, at times, ugly and sweet. I loved the metaphor and mirroring of her emerging from being a Beater was similar to the nightmare of her past and alcoholism and surviving that. I really felt that this was the strongest element in the book and how that was conveyed to me.
I also loved how the romance with the mysterious Smoke developed. Like Cass’ reawakening from being a Beater; her emotions are starting to come alive. The romance with Smoke is complex and in some ways dark and and there is no sense of idealism. However, at the same time, Cass’ vulnerability — which is illustrated throughout the story — really comes to the forefront when she embarks in a relationship with Smoke. I really loved how that inner broken and angry girl from her past became her strength with her romance with Smoke and most especially how it helped her to survive in this apocalyptic world.
One of my favourite scenes is when they shared their first kiss. I found that really poignant and powerful because of her fear of infecting him, but at the same time he had become her touchstone.
‘ “I want to kiss you,” Smoke whispered, his face inches from her, his voice rough and dangerous. “ let me kiss you.”
“No.” She shook her head, pushed his hand away, but he just pressed closer. She could feel his hot breath on her face. “No.”
“I’m not afraid.”
“I cant…I won’t be responsible.”
For poisoning him, for the chance — no matter how small– that the disease lived withing her, in her saliva, in her mouth and her throat, rolling and festering while she talked and breathed and swallowed. She would not take that chance. She would not let Smoke die because of her. Like Bobby had. Like Ruthie almost had.’
Despite the stark and depressing landscape of a world that had basically imploded, I did wish that the world-building was explained more. For instance, what was the cause for the collapse in society? Who was behind the attacks? The time from the Before (which was when the world was normal but starting to collapse), and the Siege (when society imploded)? And lastly, the Aftertime which was the aftermath. It really felt vague, although that could be construed with the point of view of Cassie’s confusion when she emerges from being a Beater. I really felt like it was more than six months or so when society imploded. I especially didn’t think that all these groups emerged and organised themselves to survive in that period of time because it felt longer than it was stated.
Aftertime is a novel that I would describe on how a gritty dystpoian should be. It’s stark and desolate and the tone of the book carries a really sad tone to the reader. There is no easy way out and the issues are harshly highlighted, which was a bit refreshing for me because they weren’t glossed over, and Cass’ character was one of the most flawed I’ve read recently. But it added a human and vulnerable element which contrasted with the monsters. The human and the inhuman in Cass’ world made her relatable even more so, and you couldn’t help but vouch for her to succeed. The romance also developed beautifully over the course of the book, and Smoke’s dark knight feel was a fantastic foil to Cass’ damaged and jaded experience. However, her determination to to find her daughter was really heartfelt and in some ways, that was the true love story of the book as well as the real heart of the book. The vivid feel of the characters emotions was almost visual and memorable, and I think this is what makes the book stand out from others in the same genre.
Aftertime is not an easy read at times, but with deftly flawed and well drawn out characters in a dark and gritty world, I was caught up into the story from the first page to the last.
I give Aftertime a B +