Afterworlds is the newest novel written by Scott Westerfeld, author of the Uglies and Leviathan series. It’s a very unusual novel in that it is like nothing I have ever read before and yet some of the novel reads strangely familiar. The novel, told in alternating narratives, details the experiences of Darcy Patel, an eighteen year old debut Young Adult novelist and the book that she has written – Afterworlds.
Darcy wrote a book during the month of November, taking part in Nanowrimo. After writing it she did what any unpublished high schooler would do… she sent it to a lit agent. Now, having been purchased by Paradox for a stunning amount of money, she decides to pick up everything and move from Ohio to New York in favour of pursuing her publishing career. Thanks to her little sister, Nisha, she is armed with a budget and a daily reminder that her book publishes in x amount of days. She meets several other writers including Imogen Gray, a fellow debut novelist whom she bonds with right away.
Interposed with Darcy’s misadventures in New York is the actual novel that she is writing. Lizzie Scofield is a young woman caught in a horrifying moment in an airport when a group of terrorists attack and kill several people. In her fear she stumbles upon a place called the Flipside; the land of the dead. She meets Yamaraj, lord of the dead, and his sister Yami. Much of this novel explores the relationships between the three, Lizzie’s growing abilities as a psychopomp who can see ghosts, and a dead girl named Mindy. Lizzie takes it upon herself to investigate and resolve a series of murders so that the ghosts might be released from our world.
This book is very compelling. I myself had a hard time putting it down. That said, it’s not perfect. I found my attention waning during the novel within the novel sequences. Lizzie and Yamaraj were a touch flat to me. Darcy’s book itself felt eerily similar to many paranormal novels published today. What happens during this part of the novel that is interesting is Westerfeld’s revealing the hand of the author…not his own hand, by any means, but Darcy’s. Westerfeld has masterfully captured her voice in and outside of her own work. As a result Afterworlds doesn’t feel like it was written by anyone other than Darcy Patel.
The rest of the book is very much a contemporary coming of age story. Darcy spends her year and a half pre-publication finding an apartment and trying to write. But it’s the things that happen along the way that are the best character building moments for her including an unexpected relationship that consumes her. She grows leaps and bounds by the end of her own book. That is the real magic of this novel – the growth we see within and without of one Miss Patel through all of the moments that test her. And yet, for much of the novel, she is working on her own novel and rarely leaves her home. I never thought a book about a young woman who essentially sits in a room writing for hours on end would be so interesting.
The book takes a while to cement the point but when it does it is brilliant. This is a very brave book for Westerfeld to have written, one that obscures his own authorial voice completely. Well done!
4.5 out of 5 stars.
* Afterworlds releases September 25, 2014 from Simon Pulse.
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