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Friday, July 15, 2011

Sophie Littlefield: AFTERTIME

Author: Sophie Littlefield
Series: AFTERTIME (Post-apocalyptic Fantasy)
Ratings: V5; S4; H1
Publisher and Titles:
      Aftertime (Luna, 2011)
      Survivors, an AFTERTIME e-book novella (Harlequin, 2011)
      Rebirth (Luna, 2011)
      Horizon (Luna, 2/2012) (FINAL)

     This blog entry was revised and updated on 5/18/12 to include a review of the third and final book in the series: Horizon. That review comes first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of the first two book:

       BOOK 3:  Horizon       
     As the story opens, Cass and Ruthie are living in New Eden, a small settlement of survivors on several small islands in a river 50 miles from the coast in Central California. Since Beaters can't swim (yet), the Edenites feel relatively safe, although they do post guards and kill any Beaters who show up on the opposite shores. Cass arrived in Eden two months ago with Dor, Smoke, Sammi (Dor's daughter), and several pregnant girls they rescued from the rebuilders (in the previous book). Although you may be bothered by the two-month information gap at the very beginning, the story line fills in that information gradually as the plot advances, so just stick with it and you'll get the full story. At this point, Cass is once again in a deep depression and is drinking again. She is worried about a multitude of people and problems: her inability to blend in with the other women in Eden; her concern that the Edenites will discover that she was once a Beater; her terrible dread that she might have killed people during the time that she was a Beater; her passive feelings about Smoke, who is still in a coma at the beginning of the book; and her lust for Dor, with whom she is having a secret, purely sexual affair

     When the Beaters figure out how to cross the river, the Edenites must quickly pack up and leave, fighting a series of Beater battles as they make their way across the countryside heading north. They are assisted by several men on horseback who claim to have come from the East, the area that Cass and her friends have always believed is free of blue leaf. They soon learn that blue leaf has spread across the country, so their hopes for safety in the East are dashed

     The plot primarily follows Cass as she tries to deal with her life, despite being in the depths of despair most of the time. Shorter sections follow some of the secondary characters. As the story ends, all of the questions posed in earlier books are resolved: How was Cass turned into a Beater? Did she kill people? Who saved her? How did she choose her last name (Dollar)? What is Smoke trying to atone for, and what's his real name? Which man will Cass choose? A character from Cass's past turns up and provides some of those answers

     This is another compelling addition to the series and a powerful finale as Cass works her way through her myriad problems, dealing with the hand that fate has dealt her. Littlefield has created a terrific world here, with fully developed characters and compelling story lines. Although there have been hints that Smoke was somehow involved in the blue leaf disaster, that connection is so inventive that it's totally unpredictableand very satisfying and believable. This has been a top-notch series from book 1 to the end, and I hate to see it end

     I don't recommend reading this book if you haven't read the first two because you'll need that background to get the most from this story. Click HERE to read an excerpt. 

     In this post-apocalyptic world of 2022, global famine and massive terrorist attacks have recently destroyed civilization as we know it. In the U.S., the electrical grid is down, water systems have been destroyed, and communication networks are a thing of the past. Bioterrorism has killed most of the world's vegetation and animals, leaving the surviving humans to exist on a diet of Kaysev, a laboratory-created plant that provides the bare essentials necessary to maintain life. Here, Cass Dollar, the series heroine sees a dilapidated street sign for Oleander Lane and thinks back to the time when the first bioterrorist missile hit California: "The sign still stood, all that was left of the oleanders that had died the first time a missile containing a biological agent microencapsulated on a warhead built on specs stolen from at least three separate countries came hurtling into the airspace above California at thirteen hundred miles per hour and struck a patch of earth in the central valley, taking out every edible crop for hundreds of miles and quite a few more that were good for nothing but looking pretty." (Rebirth, p. 54) And here, Cass remembers the moment the electrical power went out for the very last time: "...there was a brief and reverent silence when Cass felt as though the soul of the city had been sucked out. It had literally felt as though everyone who was still alive stopped breathing for a momentand then the first cry carried out on the wind, grief-struck meaningless keening that was more intense than anything she'd heard. It was joined by another and another and another, until the street outside her trailer echoed with a terrible symphony of devastation....Of all the abominations, the loss of power felt most like the loss of civilization." (Rebirth, pp. 222-223) 

     In its last official act, the U.S. government sent Air Force planes to blanket the entire country with Kaysev seeds so that the population would not starve to death. Unfortunately, due to either ineptitude or sabotage, a poisonous seed—blue leaf—was mixed in with the Kaysev seeds, and people who ate it were stricken with a fatal condition. Initially, blue leaf causes a fever, followed by a feeling of euphoria during which drastic improvements occur in the person's body (e.g., skin becomes luminous, eye color intensifies). But then the good times end. After a period of hallucinations, they begin to scratch and peel off their own skin. Soon, they become maddened monsters, hungry for skin and blood. They also develop superhuman speed and a heightened sense of smell that allow them to scent, pursue, and capture uninfected humans. They eat their captured victims like corn on the cobchewing off all of the skin and top layers of flesh. Their major weaknesses are poor vision (their pupils shrink in size) and extreme awkwardness (they trip over their own feet and over each other). When they capture someone, they drag their victim back to their nest, and that person becomes dinner. Even if the captive survives the attack, he or she is usually infected (through saliva) and goes through the same process as the original blue-leaf eaters. People call these monsters Beaters. Beaters are not rotting zombies. They are minimally sentient and are able to work together to some degree. There is no zombiesque shambling. Although their bodies are scarred and bloody, they only die if they accidentally bleed to death or if they are mortally injured, just like any other human

     The primary themes of the series are perseverance and survival, and Cass is a poster child for both. She'll do what she must to ensure that she and and her daughter, Ruthie, make it through to whatever future is in store for them. Some of her actions are cringeworthy, but she does what she feels she has to do. Cass is a complex character, trying to come to terms with her sordid past, daring to hope that she can provide a secure life for Ruthie, trying to deal with the complex relationships she develops with two very different men

     Although this is a very dark series, I am enjoying it for its fresh and inventive take on post-apocalyptic times. The Kaysev concept is great—and very well thought out. The seed mix-up seems like a plausible bureaucratic snafu, and I can convince myself that it really could happen. Also interesting are the three different societies that are portrayed in books 1 and 2: the downtrodden but independent survivors living in the Box, the resilient but fanatical extremists of the Convent, and the burgeoning but oppressive new society of the rebuilders. If you like dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction, you'll enjoy this series.

       BOOK 1:  Aftertime       
     The series heroine is Cass Dollar (aka Cassandra Haverford), a 30-year-old recovering alcoholic with the usual troubled childhood of the paranormal heroine: man-crazy mother and sexually abusive step-father. As Aftertime opens, Cass has awakened in a field in an isolated rural area with no idea how she got there. She is covered with scars from a Beater attack, but miraculously she has survived and she has not turned into a Beater. Cass takes shelter with a group of survivors living in a school. As her memories begin to return, she realizes that her attack happened two months ago, but she has no idea where she has been all that time. Now, Cass has only one goal: to find her three-year-old daughter, Ruthie, who was rescued by some survivors as Cass was being attacked

     The book follows Cass as she searches for Ruthie. Cass's partner (and love interest) on this journey is Smoke, a mysterious man who has become a symbol of the resistance movement among the survivors. The resisters are trying to undermine the rebuilders, a group that is steadily establishing its own social order among the remains of central California's citizenry. The rebuilders are heavily armed, and they rule through threats, fear, and violence. Cass and Smoke meet all kinds of people as they crisscross the countryside: from lone survivors (aka squatters), to small independent groups holed up in schools and libraries, to entrepreneurs in commercially run centers, to religious cult members who seem to worship the blue leaf disease. One of the most interesting parts of the story is to watch the reaction of the survivors to their predicament. Some behave just as they did Before (as pre-apocalyptic times are called), but others jockey for power, with some trying to maintain the legalities of Before and others making up their own rules as they go along

     Although the major conflict point (Ruthie's rescue) resolves itself in book 1, the answers to many other question remain to be resolved in the next books. At the end of Aftertime, we still don't know much about Smoke's past, and we don't know what happened to Cass during the two months after her attack or how she survived with out becoming a Beater herself. In addition, Doran (Dor) Neary, the mercenary leader of the Box, the survivalist community where Cass and Smoke finally track down Ruthie, is an interesting character waiting to be explored. Although there are some gory scenes, this is not technically horror fiction. The story is much more important than the gore

     I read one review of this book that criticized the author for not explaining what is happening in the rest of the world, but you have to remember that the story is being told mostly from Cass's point of view and that Cass has no way of knowing what is happening outside her own general vicinity. Without  television, radio, or telephones, Cass and her fellow survivors must rely solely on rumors and first-hand accounts from the rare visitors who pass through their area. Click HERE to read an excerpt.

       NOVELLA:  Survivors       
    The novella (Survivors) takes place between Aftertime and Rebirth and tells the story of a young boy whom Cass befriends in the Box

       BOOK 2:  Rebirth       
     As Rebirth begins, Cass and Smoke are living in a tent in the Box, trying to help Ruthie recover from her imprisonment in the Convent. At this point, Ruthie is mostly mute, but when she does occasionally say a word, it turns out to be prescient. Smoke is working security for Dor, and Cass is growing a garden of herbs and vegetables, which she trades or gives away. Life is pretty good, and Cass has begun to depend on Smoke, emotionally, economically, and physicallythe first time in her life that she has trusted another person. Then, catastrophe strikes once again when one of Dor's traders brings news that the rebuilders have killed everyone in the shelter where Smoke used to live, including his former lover. Smoke takes off on his own personal vengeance quest, leaving Cass and Ruthie behind. Cass is deeply hurt by what she views as Smoke's desertion and betrayal

     When Cass learns that Dor is going to Colima, the rebuilders' headquarters, in search of his daughter, she begs him to take her with him. Much of the story follows Dor, Cass, and Ruthie as they journey across the barren, danger-filled wasteland that California has become. The remainder of the plot focuses on their adventures in Colima. When they arrive at the rebuilders' headquarters, they pretend to be a family, which further exacerbates the darkly sensual feelings ricocheting between Dor and Cass. The ending finds them on the run, with many dead rebuilders behind them and with a few more refugees added to their groupsome grievously wounded. Although there were just a few too many angst-filled interior monologues in this book, I'm still hanging in because the story line is extremely intriguing and the character development is so well done. One more thing: Unlike book 1, which follows Cass all the way through, book 2 uses an alternating third-person-limited voice, moving from Cass to Sammi (Dor's daughter) to Dor, but it settles most often on Cass

     As Cass is on the vege of using her body as a bartering tool, she muses about what she has learned about sex in her relatively short life: "Sex was ridiculous, nothing more than homely rutting. The expression of the basest of instincts, twitching and spasming, hormones unleashed and sloshing through the body's systems....The system was gamed against the females, who fought and cried out...and were f***** and impregnated and then left to stagger off to dens and warrens, bruised and savaged, reminded of the terrible imbalance of nature's arrangement." (Rebirth, p. 300)

1 comment:

  1. Excellent review; very articulate. I love you're ratings system.