Review: Aftertime

February 21, 2011 Books, Reading, Reviews 3 ★★★★½

Aftertime by Sophie Littlefield
four-half-stars
Awakening in a bleak landscape, Cass Dollar vaguely recalls enduring something terrible. Having no idea how many days—or weeks—have passed, she slowly realizes the horrifying truth: her daughter, Ruthie, has vanished. And with her, nearly all of civilization. Instead of winding through the once-lush hills, the roads today see only cannibalistic Beaters—people turned hungry for human flesh by a government experiment gone wrong.In a broken, barren California, Cass will undergo a harrowing quest to get Ruthie back. Few people trust an outsider—much less one who bears the telltale scars of a Beater attack—but she finds safety with an enigmatic outlaw, Smoke. And she'll need him more than ever when his ragged band of survivors learn that she and Ruthie have become the most feared, and desired, weapons in a brave new world….
Series: Aftertime #1
Published by Harlequin on 2013-04-01
Genres: Dystopia, Post-Apocalyptic, Speculative Fiction
Pages: 448
Format: eARC
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I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book nor the content of my review.

 

I like apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic novels (and movies and video games…). There’s something compelling about what life would be like after the end, something frightening and fascinating all at the same time. Aftertime is a fine entry into the genre, blending zombie horror seamlessly with a very human, emotional story.

Aftertime is a methodical novel. The pace is slow through the first half of the story, as Cass slowly regains her memory and tries to relearn how to fit into society–what’s left of it, after the population was devastated by bioterrorism and disease. This new society is the most frightening thing about Aftertime‘s world. The people that are left live in small enclaves in public buildings, for the most part, places they can seal against the Beaters, diseased zombies that crave uninfected human flesh. Before collapsing completely, the American government seeded the land with kaysev, a plant specifically engineered to fulfill a person’s nutritional needs. People waver between wanting to help each other and wanting to close ranks and protect their own.

Cass should be an object of suspicion for everyone. She was taken by the Beaters and woke up in the countryside, her skin mangled, but otherwise free of the disease that twists the Beaters into flesh-eating zombies. But when she meets Smoke, she suddenly finds that she trusts him and even stranger, he seems to trust her. They set off to find Cass’s young daughter, Ruthie, who has been sent away for her own safety.

Despite needing to constantly dodge zombies and people with a rather fascist bend, Cass’s story isn’t so much action and shooting as it is survival and recovery. There are some exciting sequences where they’re desperately trying to escape certain death, but that’s not the point of Aftertime. The point is, for me anyway, that even when it seems like you can’t go on, you can always find strength to overcome those obstacles.

Cass is a very damaged character, having dealt with sexual abuse, alcoholism, and her own self-destructiveness all her life. Smoke himself has skeletons in his closet that have driven him to heroism; he needs to help others, and this leads him to Cass. Their love story is a subtle one. There’s no love at first sight, and I really like that Littlefield takes her time in bringing the two together emotionally. It feels natural that they would first need to grow to trust each other before they can fall in love, especially in the dangerous world of Aftertime.

My only complaint (and it’s not even completely a complaint) is that the book’s ending is extremely abrupt. On one hand, I hit the end and thought, ‘Huh? But… I need more!’ On the other hand, I admire Littlefield for choosing such a non-standard ending. I won’t post any spoilers, but it’s definitely a sudden ending. I do wonder, though, if there’s a sequel planned, because the story is definitely open for it.

Aftertime was a book that alternately creeped me the hell out and broke my heart repeatedly. It’s extremely well-written, and I really do hope that Littlefield writes more about Cass, Smoke, and little Ruthie.