Thursday, December 6, 2018

Review - Afterlife

by Marcus Sakey
Date: 2017
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Reading level: A
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 320
Format: e-book

Between life and death lies an epic war, a relentless manhunt through two worlds… and an unforgettable love story.

The last thing FBI agent Will Brody remembers is the explosion — a thousand shards of glass surfing a lethal shock wave. He wakes without a scratch. The building is in ruins. His team is gone. Outside, Chicago is dark. Cars lie abandoned. No planes cross the sky. He’s relieved to spot other people — until he sees they’re carrying machetes.

Welcome to the afterlife.

Claire McCoy stands over the body of Will Brody. As head of an FBI task force, she hasn’t had a decent night’s sleep in weeks. A terrorist has claimed eighteen lives and thrown the nation into panic. Against this horror, something reckless and beautiful happened. She fell in love… with Will Brody. But the line between life and death is narrower than any of us suspect — and all that matters to Will and Claire is getting back to each other.

From the author of the million-copy bestselling Brilliance Trilogy comes a mind-bending thriller that explores our most haunting and fundamental question: What if death is just the beginning?

(synopsis from Goodreads)

WARNING: Major Spoilers! To read this review with the spoilers hidden, check it out on Goodreads.

I really struggled with this one. For the first quarter or so, I thought I was going to like this book. But, as time went on, the writing and editing fell apart, and reading became more of a slog. There are so many plot holes in the story, so many things that don't make sense (and that aren't satisfactorily explained), that the whole thing suffers. It doesn't help that the characters are flat, existing as collections of basic traits (if that). I got tired of the book telling me what kind of people these were, or how their relationships were supposed to be. Brody and Claire, as the star couple of this story, should've had way more chemistry than they actually did. Them continually musing that they're so in love that they must've been together before didn't really do much to develop their relationship.

My main problem with this book, however, is that it seems confused about its own world-building. In some parts, it seems like a materialist manifesto. Everything that comes after death is informed by life. All energy comes from the physical world. (Which is pretty much the opposite of most spiritual traditions, so I wasn't sure where the author was going with this.) But then Brody and Claire keep making statements that hint at reincarnation and, in fact, at the end, there seems to be something like that going on. (Although, that concept is muddled there, too, since the last scene takes place ten years later, and Brody and Claire have apparently come back as... Brody and Claire.) I'm left with the impression that this book was written by an atheist who doesn't really understand the concepts of the afterlife and reincarnation at all. Even if we assume reincarnation is real--according to this book and the rules it's set out--you basically have to go through hell to get there. The echo is populated by normal dead people and psychopathic killers who have become quasi-gods. There are no checks and balances, so it's not even a world of black-and-white contrasts. It's more of a black-and-grey world, and I found it extremely depressing. Basically, you can be killed in the physical world, then killed again in the echo... and there are layers and layers of echoes, so the process could go on for a while. To what end? What's the purpose of this perpetual victimization? This is never explained. Evil is allowed to grow unchecked, and everyone else simply has to suffer through it.

The writing itself is a mixed bag. In the beginning, it isn't too bad. But this book seems like so many others I've read, where the editor just throws in the towel after the opening act. When characters started shrugging their speech at around the 1/4 mark, I started to lose hope. The amount of sentence fragments is ridiculous. And I'm not impressed with the way the author writes his female characters. Brody is constantly talking about how amazing and efficient and smart and whatever Claire is; it's like the author is trying way too hard to convince the reader that he's a feminist or something. But then he has Claire go and describe another woman solely with her breast size. (That's not the first thing most women would think to mention.) There's a lot of stuff that relies on the reader's knowledge of Chicago, like landmarks and street names; having never been there, it was mostly meaningless to me. (And I'm still trying to figure out what the author meant when he said one of the characters had a "Chicago build".) And then there are the plot holes. People apparently don't age or get sick in the echo... but they can get injured and require Tylenol. They can raid fridges and eat food cold (because the food magically appears in the fridge as an echo from the physical world), but they can't cook anything because there's no fire and the stoves don't work. The fridges work, but not the stoves? Okay... but if you really wanted something hot, couldn't you raid a room-service tray or a restaurant table and steal that echoed hot food?

This book basically blew past what was outlined in the synopsis at the halfway mark, so I had no idea what I was going to get for the rest of it. Had I known it was going to be a depressing, muddled vision of the afterlife riddled with plot holes and one-dimensional characters, I probably wouldn't have bothered starting this one in the first place. There is a glimmer of a good idea here, but it turned out to be kind of a mess.

Premise: 2/5
Plot: 2/5
Characters: 2/5
Pace: 2/5
Writing: 2/5
Editing: 2/5
Originality: 3/5
Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall Rating: 2 out of 5 ladybugs

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