Scott Westerfeld’s new novel Afterworlds alternates between good and great.
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Genre: Young adult, fantasy
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication Date: September 23, 2014
599 pages, hardcover
Check out the synopsis on Goodreads.
This book is LONG. Yes, it’s 599 pages, which is a somewhat long page length, but I read long books all the time. It was just long. It took me almost two weeks to read which is a long time for me. How many times do you think I can say long in the first paragraph? I think part of the problem was that it took me a while to get into it. Once I did, I suppose it didn’t take too much time to finish. As this book is told in alternating chapters of Darcy’s real life (which reads much like a contemporary novel) and Darcy’s novel about Lizzie (which is very much fantasy), I think I should break up my review into two sections: Darcy and Lizzie.
Darcy’s story was my favorite of the two. She’s written and sold a book she wrote during NaNoWriMo and has high tailed to NYC with her outrageous earnings to live for as long as she can there while rewriting her novel Afterworlds. She’s just graduated high school so is somewhat naïve and a bit of a newbie, but as she lives in NYC, meets authors, falls in love, gets her heartbroken, and rewrites, she grows up. I really enjoyed her character growth and seeing this side of the publishing industry in a book. I have a Master’s degree in Publishing Studies so I’m really interested in this, and I don’t think most people get to see what this side of the books you read looks like. I don’t know too much about the writing side so seeing Darcy’s book evolve throughout was really cool.
I especially enjoyed being able to see things that Darcy and Imogen (another writer) would discuss that would then show up in Darcy’s novel. Seeing Darcy change the novel from conversations she has gave an insight into how writing works, which I liked. I also really liked the romance between Darcy and Imogen, and even though they got together really quickly, I don’t think it felt like instalove. It felt genuine and organic.
Lizzie is the main character in Darcy’s novel Afterworlds, who after surviving a terrorist attack at an airport, finds out that she can now enter the afterworld (or the flipside as she eventually comes to call it), a place that is just like our world but gray and which renders her invisible to the living. When she first entered the afterworld, she was greeted by a boy named Yamaraj, a psychopomp or a guide to the dead. After returning home from the attack, she meets Mindy, her mother’s best friend from childhood who is eleven years old and dead. She was abducted, murdered, and buried in her own backyard, and Lizzie promises to seek revenge as she comes to care for Mindy. I really liked Mindy’s character and how she was both still a child and a little bit grown up. She was still deathly (hehe) afraid of the bad man who’d murdered her and hid in the closet where she felt safe. I won’t give anything away, but what happened later in the novel in regards to her character was fascinating. Very cool idea.
Unlike with Darcy, I really hated the romance in Lizzie’s chapters. It was exactly like instalove and even though it’s explained that Yamaraj hasn’t really aged and is still very much like a teenager, any kind of romance between someone who is really thousands of years old and someone who is actually 17 is creepy (*cough*Twilight*cough*). They jump into a relationship way too quickly, especially after Lizzie has come through something so horrible. On that note, I think Lizzie’s reaction to everything happening to her is…well, it’s pretty much nonexistent. She doesn’t really react to almost dying or to the fact that she can see ghosts or that she can now visit the land of the dead. It was weird.
I did really enjoy the whole idea and plot and story behind Afterworlds though. The thing that gets me though is the fact that it reads like a debut novel even though it was written by Scott Westerfeld. This is either an account of how awesome a writer he is or is not really a good book (Darcy’s novel, I mean). I can’t tell so I’m not sure how I feel about it.
The bottom line: I really, really enjoyed the chapters that centered on Darcy and her road to publication. I liked the idea behind the chapters from her novel but had my reservations when it came to Lizzie’s romance and her reaction to what happened. Overall, it was good but not great. I liked it but didn’t love it.
Rating: 6.5 – between good but not great and pretty good