There is something about us book-lovers and our attraction to books about books. We love stories in which the protagonist is always talking about books, we love books that are self-aware, and Afterworlds is giving us a big bite of that cake.
We meet Darcy Patel, aspiring-author, and see her struggles before her first book is released, at the same time that we meet Darcy’s protagonist (our protagonist’s protagonist, so meta !) and read the story that threw Darcy into the world of publishing.
I honestly loved the two stories, the two points of view, the two characters, even if this kind of structure always leaves me a little bit frustrated : it’s the fact that I have to swap stories every chapter, and once I start to be into it, I have to change all over again. I asked myself if it wouldn’t be better to read Darcy’s story first before starting on Lizzie’s but, truth is, the two stories are somewhat connected. What happens to Darcy influences the story she’s writing (well, editing) : she learns the word “bungalow” and it appears in Lizzie’s next chapter ; she finally writes an ending for her book, and we get the last four chapters she chose. And not to forget the fact that, for both of them, it’s kind of a coming-of-age story : Darcy has to learn to be an independant adult, and Lizzie is learning how to live with her new abilities. So, even though the stories and their paths are different, you can always see similarities, and it’s not difficult to believe that Darcy wrote Afterworlds, since it seems that so much of her has leaked into the pages.
You forget the whole thing is actually Scott Westerfeld’s work.
And that’s another thing I absolutely loved : the book talk ! Darcy talks a lot about her difficulties in polishing her novel, we see her thought-process, we see her make the decisions that will shape the other story we’ve been given. There’s talk about character arcs, cultural appropriation, plot lines. I wouldn’t be able to explain what is so fascinating when it comes to books about books, but there’s something so thrilling about all the meta talk. You can even glimpse little bits about fandom culture and fan fictions. (Also, I feel like I need to mention it somewhere, but that little reference to Les Misérables in Lizzie’s story just about killed me. I was absolutely losing my shit ! I kept thinking “Scott Westerfeld watched Les Mis and he liked it enough to mention it in his book !!”)
The irony that all of it was written by a middle-aged white man doesn’t escape me
This books is really a little bit of everything you could want : awesome female characters, I would even say awesome queer female characters of color (I really wasn’t expecting this much Mr Westerfeld, so thank you a lot for that !), romance (and I know I vented a lot about insta-love and how much romance in YA sucks, but guess what, I was totally sold from the beginning, both for Lizzie and Darcy), supernatural elements (the kind of amazing but really scary shit that will give you nightmares), fantastic relationships (Lizzie and her mom, Darcy and her sister, Lizzie and Jamie, Darcy and her friends). And Darcy’s story was really good. That’s the problem when you like magic and sci-fi, you come to a point where, sometimes, regular stories are a bit boring to you (although the reverse is possible too, you’ve been around fantasy and sci-fi for so long that everything looks and sounds the same), and it wasn’t the case. I wouldn’t be able to say which story I liked most, it was a bit of a constant back-and-forth.
The thing that’s bugging me now is that the book has no sequel planned (yet !). I tend to be a little reluctant nowadays when it comes to starting a new series of books, although it all depends on the book itself, but right now, I could do with a sequel. I want to know about Lizzie and Yamaraj, I want to know what Darcy is going to do now that her lease is up, is she really going to go to college, and if so, I want to see what happens to her there, I want to see Jamie’s reactions to Lizzie’s revelation. So many things left unsaid ! For once, one book is really not enough !
Anyway, Afterworlds is an amazing read, and should be recommended to any YA fans out there. It was the first book I’ve read by Scott Westerfeld, but I think I understand a little bit now the success of the Uglies series.