Two grand slams in one month! I’m excited to tell you about this one, dear Reader!
I’m going to start out by saying that I’ve never been a fan of zombie stories.
Just, keep that in mind.
When I first read the complete Five Enchanted Roses collection, one of my favorite stories was Wither by Savannah Jezowski.
Now… After is a kind of prequel story to Wither. It is set in the same world, and there is even a pretty big cameo by the characters who feature in Wither, but the story itself follows a different set of characters and their story.
When I first read Wither, I really liked the chilling setting and sort of creepy flavor it had. But when people started talking about “the zombie story” in Five Enchanted Roses, I was honestly extremely confused. See, it went straight over my head that “creepers” were, actually, her version of fantasy-themed zombies. Totally missed that!
But these are not zombies like you’ve ever seen them before. They bear all the hallmarks you’d expect… they are people who have died, but have not stayed buried like they’re supposed to. In the fantasy world of Pandorum, this strange epidemic is a problem people live with, and accept as something they can’t solve. The creepers wander aimlessly, existing somewhere between life and death, and are usually fairly placid, though loud noises can get them “riled” which makes them more dangerous.
Eli, the main character in After, is a “spook” who basically guards his section of town against creepers and helps transport them outside the city gates when he finds them.
But this is not a story about creepers. They are part of the story, but they are not the focus… in many respects, they’re not even on the main stage.
After is a story about a man and his brothers. It is a story about family and forgiveness and faith. In her Author’s Note, Ms. Jezowski says that the Neverway Chronicles are a sort of picture of what the afterlife might look like in a world where the Savior has not yet come. And that is where this story takes a hard left turn away from what a classic zombie story normally looks like. It is this lens through which the story is written that allows it to be stunningly, breathtakingly beautiful.
Seven Things I Loved About After:
- Conrad Ellis the Third. Also known as “Eli,” is the main character and he is the heart and soul of this book. Most of the story is told from his perspective. Eli is my favorite thing about this book, and I just want to hug him… though he certainly wouldn’t appreciate that at all. The main bread-winner for his family, he shoulders far more than he should, and keeps everyone at arm’s length. He rarely shows his true emotions or says the things he’s thinking. He actually cares — with a deep, extravagant, fiercely loyal love — for those he’s let into his heart… but, of course, he doesn’t tell them that! Brooding, sarcastic, and grumpy, and with no patience for anything that he feels is impractical, Eli is an eminently likable character, despite his dour moods.
- Ivan. Ivan is Eli’s younger half-brother by seven years. He is almost the complete opposite of Eli in every way. Cheerful to a fault, and with an eye for extravagant, impractical things, you can’t help but love Ivan. The interactions between him and Eli are constantly entertaining, but there is a deeper story of respect and love between them that builds throughout the story… beneath all the little digs and jibes and sarcastic comments… and it is lovely to watch it unfold.
- The world-building. Pandorum is extremely well thought out. The way that the city is structured, with each section separated by guarded gates, until you reach the center of the city where the rich and powerful are located, was easy to follow and see. It was also neat to follow with Eli as he journeyed to the heart of the city on his assignment and see him realize that the golden heart of Pandorum was just as afflicted by problems and corruption as the Quarter, his home section of the city.
- The humor. Did I mention this book is funny? I know that might seem weird to find in a story of this nature, but it really is. There is a sarcastic, witty sense of humor lacing its way through the book, and Eli himself has a rather dark sense of humor that I found highly entertaining.
- Brothers… the brotherly relationships throughout this book are fantastic. They are just so very real and deep and multi-faceted. There were multiple spots in the second half of this book that had me in tears. Not because the story was sad (though there are moments of that, as well), but because what was happening in the story was so perfectly beautiful and RIGHT for the story in that moment. There is a moment between Eli and Ivan where they’ve been sniping back and forth at one another and Eli realizes that he has wounded his brother deeply, and … I can’t tell you any more because: SPOILERS, but it is my favorite moment in the entire book and I couldn’t read for a bit because the pages were too blurry to move on.
- Mystery. I’ve noticed, as I’ve now read three different stories by Ms. Jezowski, that she has a habit of writing a good amount of mystery into her stories. She tends to set you down in the middle of her worlds and then race off, leaving the reader to pick up the clues of how the world works as the story unfolds. I love this habit of hers. I love exploring with the characters and having these little “Aha!” moments throughout the story as things click into place. The mystery is fun and exciting, but it isn’t so central to the story that you wouldn’t want to re-read it… if that makes sense. Knowing the answers to the mysteries doesn’t ruin the story.
- The allegory. I like allegories. Not all the time, and not when they’re too over-the-top, but when they are subtle and poignant, then I love them. This book is everything an allegory should be. It’s not a representation of our world, and it isn’t meant to be. But it asks an interesting question, and then strives to answer it, and does so with a fascinating story full of incredible characters that you will absolutely fall in love with.
Honestly, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It has completely stolen my heart, and I can’t wait for the author to write more books in this world so I can journey there again. It releases tomorrow, so you should definitely go grab a copy!
Five dragon eggs!