Allow me to start this review off by saying that I am most definitely a Scott Westerfeld fan. I greatly enjoyed his Leviathan series, and, although I didn’t fully get into it, I did think his Uglies series was good as well. His new book, Afterworlds, is definitely on par with, if not better, than those books. First of all, you most definitely need a general idea of the theme to understand this review.
This book has something that is few and far between in books, if it is seen at all. That feature is two plots, and even two main characters. The first of the two is Darcy Patel. Darcy is a young adult (18 to be precise) and has just completed her novel as she finished high school. She convinces her parents to let her move to New York so she can work on the editing and writing of both her first and second books. Now, this is where it gets interesting. The second character is Elizabeth, also known as Lizzie, and she is Darcy’s character. The book switches plots every other chapter, alternating between the story of Darcy growing up and learning about an author’s life in New York City and Elizabeth’s paranormal romance written by Darcy herself.
I have mixed feelings on the aspect of two plots in this book. I will give it to Westerfeld, they are both very well constructed and thought out, and a few parallels are drawn between the two. However, what I worry about is the audience this type of book has. This is a result of the two very different genres, Lizzie’s story being a paranormal romance involving a lot of death and fantasy elements and Darcy’s being a realistic fiction. This would be fine if Darcy’s story was a normal, drama-based realistic fiction book, but this particular story has a lot of writer’s lingo and lots of conversation based entirely around creating books. I worry that this will turn off a lot of casual readers, leading them to skip entire chapters so they can continue on the path of one narrative and read the other later or not at all. Despite all of these potential issues, I think that the author has done a great job of blending the stories together and making it a very interesting read.
However, I do have one nitpicky thing that I noticed that was a little odd that pertains to the romances in the book. In Afterworlds, both Lizzie and Darcy find love through their struggles, and (yes, even as a guy) it is enjoyable to watch the affairs play out. Unfortunately, there is one thing that seems a little off about the romances, and that is the beginning of them. The problem with Darcy’s is that she instantly makes a huge life decision in a matter of a few minutes. On the roof of her apartment building during a housewarming party, Darcy “hooks up” with her good friend Imogen Gray, who happens to also be a girl. While I am neither homosexual nor homophobic (I think Imogen and Darcy make a good couple), I happen to know from my friend who is gay that this is a very big decision that can affect your whole life. Although the author attempts to justify it by saying that Darcy has only felt petty crushes for boys and feels something very real for Imogen, it still doesn’t feel like a very considered decision. The author also says that Darcy isn’t sure if she is homosexual, just that she is sure that she loves Imogen, but it is still kind of awkward and definitely sudden. However, the relationship plays out to be a very kind and loving relationship, the kind anyone would love to be a part of.
Lizzie’s relationship is a paranormal romance relationship. Apart from normal paranormal romance cliché problems, there is the beginning issue again. When Lizzie meets the boy of her dreams, Yamaraj (Who happens to be a several thousand year old grim reaper), she is caught in a horrible terrorist attack and accidentally crosses over into the spirit world, changing herself from a normal teen into a spirit guide. However, after moving past the attack, she still has to learn how to deal with seeing the ghosts of people and things that have long since passed. As can be expected, she needs someone to help her adjust to her new life. However, she seems more intent on getting Yamaraj to help her simply because he is deemed cute by her than because he has knowledge of the afterworld. Overall, though, I think the romances in Afterworlds are very realistic and good. The romances are very realistic in that they have arguments and actual interactions; all while being balanced with the plot.
I have to say, one of my, if not my, favorite thing about this book is its characters. I truly think that the characters are all well-developed and serve a purpose. First of all, let us start with the main characters, Lizzie and Darcy. Although it is debatable who is the true main character of the book, I think Darcy is, seeing as she created the other main character. Darcy is very relatable, but only if you know at least a little bit about the publishing world. However, even if you can’t relate to her, it is still very enjoyable to watch her grow and mature as a person. Her story will definitely teach even the most knowledgeable a few things.Now, let us talk about Lizzie. She is definitely more relatable than Darcy, as she is just a normal girl who has had something happen to her that changed her life. In my opinion, it is very cool to see the Afterworld through the eyes of a teen girl. As is to be expected with main characters in amazing novels like this, Darcy and Lizzie change a lot throughout this book. They both mature through their struggles, albeit in different ways. Darcy learns a lot about being responsible, love, and sacrifice. As for the other characters, if I had to summarize them in a few words, I would say this: realistically complex. Even characters who didn’t receive a lot of page time were very real, and they all felt like someone who you could meet in the real world. Heck, even Standerson’s media escort has a unique personality and cool backstory.
And now, for one of the last things I shall discuss: the worlds. I am a huge fan of Westerfeld’s book for one reason in particular: his fictional worlds. And I was definitely not disappointed by these worlds. Let us start, as usual, with Darcy. Although New York City might not seem like somewhere that can be explored very in-depth, it most certainly can. The book owes most of that to its unique viewpoint, which is that of an author, which I don’t think people usually relate to the big apple. The book emphasizes the struggles Darcy has with her new setting, while still keeping it good with bursts of feel-good moments. I think that NYC is the perfect setting for Darcy’s story, as it is the perfect place for the mood of her tale. The mood of Darcy’s anecdote is spot-on: confusing and chaotic, yet upbeat with a hint of tension and despair. On the other hand, Lizzie’s story focuses more on the mood of darkness, with some things that are just downright depressing. However, more of that comes from the Afterworld section of Lizzie’s tale, with the sections of her school and home life reminding us that she is just a normal girl. This mood owes a lot to its setting, which is a small town in California. Also, there is the Afterworld. This is the mythical realm that Lizzie visits during her accident and chooses to visit from then on. Unlike many imaginary worlds these days, this one is very well thought-out and (I know I keep using this word, but) realistic. Most of the angles I can think of have been covered, with the exception of a very select few. The only problem I have with it is how Lizzie imagined herself into it the first time, but I can easily accept this and move out. The Afterworld also creates some interesting moral dilemmas, such as whether or not ghosts are people and what the spirit guides should be able to do with them.
Overall, I really like this book, and that is definitely an understatement. This is a very well-written book. It is very intricate, with lots of complicated problems and interesting relationships. The world is interesting, with lots of unique characters and places. The two plots keep things interesting by not focusing on one story for two long and even mixing it up between two genres. Although this is a very romance-centered, it is by no means only a “girl’s book.” I also think although this is meant for older teen readers, anyone can read this and have a great time doing so.