Book one of a duology
By Scott Westerfeld
Available now from Simon Pulse (Simon & Schuster)
AFTERWORLDS, the latest effort from the hugely popular Scott Westerfeld, is two books in one. Darcy Patel's story will appeal to fans of contemporary novels, while Lizzie's story will appeal to paranormal fans.
Darcy is moving out thanks to the huge advance she just got for her first novel and unwritten sequel. She's going to live in New York where the writers are. There, she discovers that maybe it wasn't best to rely on her younger sister to budget (because who knew how many mops she would need?) and falls in love with another author, who is also making her YA debut. It's a bit fairytale, except for the fact that Darcy's girlfriend has secrets.
Lizzie just survived a terrorist attack by pretending to be dead. In fact, she pretended so well that she crossed over to the world of the dead and became a psychopomp. There she meets Yamaraj, who starts teaching her what she needs to know to survive. But an encounter with a pedophile's victim inspires her to start getting more active with her new powers. Her story is gripping from that first, horrifying chapter. It's no wonder that a publishing company would pay the big bucks for her story. (It made me think of the first chapter of Beth Revis's debut book, ACROSS THE UNIVERSE. It is only similar in how gripping and terrifying it is, but it's easy to envision how a publicity campaign could be enacted around it.)
Lizzie's story is AFTERWORLDS, the book Darcy wrote. As Darcy's section progresses, it becomes clear that we're reading the edited version of the in-story AFTERWORLDS. We also learn the twist: the original draft has an unhappy ending. Darcy's dive into the world of publishing - editor's letters, meeting other authors, agents - will determine whether she changes the ending or keeps it.
Each girl's story is entertaining on its own merits, although most readers will prefer one or the other just based on their own preferred genre. Either the odd chapters or even chapters can be read on their own, if that is preferred, although the two stories go together in interesting ways. Lizzie's story has more action and terror, with a hint of romance. Darcy's story has more romance, with lots of meta discussion about Lizzie's story. For instance, is Darcy appropriating her own culture by making Yamaraj the romantic hero? Both heroines grow in interesting ways throughout their stories. I took longer to warm up to Darcy (that terrible budget!), but by the end I liked both girls.
I'm sure I'll be back for UNTITLED PATEL next year. (There is going to be a sequel, right?) AFTERWORLDS is a different sort of book, and for me it was a successful experiment indeed.