Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Book Review: The Afterward by E. K. Johnston

Pros: great romance, optimistic, inclusive

Cons: tenses changes often bumped me out of the story

A year after successfully using the godsgem to defeat the Old God, the seven questers returned to their lives. Sir Erris Quicksword married the King. Mage Ladros took the gem to the Mage Keep in case it’s needed again. Their thief, Olsa Rhetsdaughter paid off her debt but keeps getting picked up by the guards for thievery, which is becoming a problem as the king can no longer intercede on her behalf. Her lover, the apprentice knight Kalanthe Ironheart has also interceded several times, but her own problems - finding a rich husband before she’s knighted and her own debts come due - can no longer be ignored.

This is the story of what happens after the quest is over.

The novel alternates between scenes from the quest - which detail the quest itself and the burgeoning romance between Olsa and Kalanthe - and what’s happening in the present. Oddly, the present scenes are written in the past tense third person viewpoint whereas the past scenes are told from a first person present tense from either Olsa or Kalanthe’s point of view. On the one hand, this makes it very clear what period you’re in, on the other hand, it can be jarring going from one tense to the other.

I loved the characters. Seeing five female knights on a quest was great, especially when one was asexual and another was transgender. The romance between Olsa and Kalanthe developed organically in the flashback scenes and you can see them trying to come to terms with their choices - imposed and desired - in the present and how their circumstances and pride cause problems.

It was refreshing to read a quest story that shows how characters move on from the disruption to their lives and one that’s so unabashedly positive. There’s no shame around sex (or any of the pairings - all of which happen off screen, there’s no graphic content here), nor is race an issue (several characters have dark skin, and among them different hair care is required). There is a desert dweller who faces ridicule due to her background by side characters, but the questers accept her without question.  

This is a fantastic standalone novel, perfect for the YA crowd and adults looking for more optimistic stories.

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