Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Review: Afterworld by Lynnette Lounsbury

Title: Afterworld
Author: Lynnette Lounsbury
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Source: Allen & Unwin Teen. Thankyou!

Goodreads rating: 3.50 out of 5.00 (6 ratings, pre-release)
Goodreads | The Reading Room

Dom is the youngest person ever to arrive in the Necropolis, the 'waiting place' between death and what comes after. And it isn't long before he catches the attention of Satarial, a cruel Nephilim from the beginning of time, who has grim plans to use Dom as entertainment in his vicious gladiatorial games. When Dom's still-living sister, Kaide, appears in the Necropolis too, Satarial has the leverage he needs, and the stage is set for the biggest shake-up the afterlife has seen in centuries.

Dom's only option is to compete in the Trials and attempt to win the chance to enter the Maze. In his favour he has an enigmatic young Guide, Eva, and a Guardian, Eduardo, who may not be what he seems. But will they be enough?
Review by Chantelle

'Why will they notice me? I'm not trying to be modest or anything, but I am pretty average.'
Eduardo smiled at him. 'You are young. That is enough.' 
First up, the blurb for Afterworld caught my interest straight away. I loved the promise of action and high stakes on the background of the afterlife, it sort of appealed to me as the love child of The Hunger Games and Blood Red Road. "Vicious gladiatorial games"? Count me in! I mean in real life (or even movies for that matter) I'm not the blood thirsty type but in books... sort of different. Grand scale fight scenes in books can be pretty darn epic and addictive to read, and thankfully in this aspect Lynnette Lounsbury delivered. However, the world building and character development, especially in the first part of this novel, left a lot to be desired.

Afterworld is a young adult fantasy novel centred around Dominic Mathers, a half-black, half-white 15 year old boy who was adopted by an American family, along with his half-white, half-asian sister, Kaide, and they live in Delhi, India where their parents have set up a clinic. There were so many ethnicities it reminded me a lot of my old maths textbook questions where the writers try so hard to be internationally inclusive, "Pedro, Amanda and Ming Lee went sea kayaking. Pedro is 430m from Amanda..." Besides the initial chuckle this gave me, I quite liked the diversity and that neither of Dominic nor Kaide were cultural stereotypes.

Dominic (Dom) dies in a car accident and arrives in the 'Necropolis', a place between death and whatever comes after. His story is divided into three distinctive parts: Part I- The City, Part II- The Trial and Part III- The Maze. I say distinctive because not only was the style of writing different in all three, but my reactions to each were definitely different.

Part I- The City is about when he arrives. Lynnette Lounsbury introduces this 'Afterworld', her own unique version which is a blend of every current religion. I really didn't like it. Dom is thrust into this new world and I found I constantly had questions about what was going on that weren't being answered. Just fundamental aspects of world building. He's the youngest at 15 years of age to enter the Necropolis, okay, WHY? doesn't seem likely when people who die go here, even if the Afterworld is huge. This incessant questioning of mine acted as a barrier to my enjoyment such that I couldn't immerse myself into the story. I also found Lounsbury's religious reasoning behind her version of the Afterworld too ambitious. She sort of shoots down every religion with a particular focus on Christianity by bringing in biblical characters such as Enoch and Noah, and advocated this Afterworld as a place created by belief, and everyone on Earth is wrong. And while I enjoy fictitious speculation as much as the next person, I couldn't help but think, 'what is this author trying to tell me, as an impressionable young teen reader? Does she really believe this, or is this purely for the sake of fiction?'

Also, the Necropolis is created by collective beliefs and yet there's no technology??? This allows for swords and the like, but come on, although I prefer sword fights over gun fights any day, there is zero logic to this. Needless to say, I didn't really bond with Dom or any of the characters at this stage. Dom copes a little too well to his move to the Afterworld, and it's not very convincing.

However, there were still some positives. In this version of events, the earth used to have dragons, and all these other majestic creatures that could communicate telepathically. I really liked this concept of not belittling the past, that it was actually more epic than we know, that it actually surpassed all the great sciences that we have today.
'Do you think we lived in a swap? Or a cave?' She laughed... 'You think we crawled out of the mud and wandered around for centuries trying to start a fire?'... 'We lived for hundreds of years, Dominic... We flew great distances... We had commerce across the entire planet.'
Part II- The Trials was actually pretty great. I flew through this section hardly putting it down. The Trials are these games where the participants fight to earn their 'minutes' to enter the maze (sort of complicated, if you're curious you'll have to read the book), but if they lose, they'll be locked in a container to drown for the rest of their eternal lives. While they don't fight other people, they fight through situations where they have to endure tremendous pain. To Lounsbury's credit, these scenes were very well written, the plot ruthless and the style incredibly cinematic. These arena scenes were gripping, surprisingly creative and addictive, and I felt, made up for where other aspects fell short.

These were such as the characters (again), and the romance. Kaide, Dom's sister, also arrives at the Afterworld, and finds out that Dom is being forced into the trials by Satarial (not a spoiler guys, it's in the blurb). Instead of being horrified at the truly horrific stakes of these cruel games where Dom would essentially be repeatedly tortured, she says to Dom, "oh calm down with the melodrama" ... ... ... REALLY?!?!?! The romance was equally as unconvincing. It sort of goes from zero to hero very very quickly, but I guess once it was there I just accepted it. The same goes to the fighting skills he gets, he just gets them transferred to him, and it was disappointing as often the journey is the most enjoyable part for the reader, like the awesome training montages in movies.

Part III- The Maze was different stylistically with the introduction of POVs from Kaide, and Eva (the love interest). It was a great move as the characters became more dimensional, and it was easier to like them or at least understand them. The section was a lot more mythical, but still had lots of action. The epilogue was unfortunately extremely disappointing, to me it made the whole novel seem sort of pointless but nevertheless, I still thought the book was okay.

The three distinctly different parts mean that if you do end up reading it and want to DNF, I would definitely recommend sticking with it because the plot, writing style and tone of each section are different and will appeal to different readers. It's sort of like a condensed trilogy. I would recommend this novel for lovers of action, it you're a chick-lit girl, this one is probably not for you because the romance isn't exactly outstanding. However, the fight scenes are well worth the read.

It was okay, had it's ups and downs. 
Overall: 6/10
Plot: 3/5
Writing: 3/5
Characters: 2/5
Cover: 4/5