Before I get to the review, I want to mention I don’t normally read dystopian fiction, horror, or romance novels and I definitely don’t do zombies. I can handle aliens and Godzilla but zombies give me the creeps.
So what possessed me to read Aftertime (Luna, Feb. 22), which takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, is overrun with flesh-eating zombies, and contains, ah, really steamy scenes? The fact it was written by Sophie Littlefield, who can get me to read anything.
The story (first of a trilogy) begins with Cass waking up in a field with no memories of the past two months. Last she remembers, she was seized by zombies—called Beaters—while she was picking dandelions in a field with her three-year-old daughter, Ruthie. Missing strips of flesh on her body indicate she’d been attacked and zombiefied but for unknown reasons, her body healed itself and she became human again. Now, nothing will stop her as she travels through Beaters-infested terrain to reclaim her daughter, meeting a man named Smoke along the way who turns out to be as seductive and dangerous as his name.
Littlefield excels at keeping the momentum going and she knows how to inject a huge beating heart into any story, even one in which humanity is barely alive. Yes, the zombies are revolting. When they’re feasting on flesh, I almost vomited like a character does in the book. Violent, disturbing things happen but at the center of it all is a woman trying to redeem herself for past mistakes, to finally do the right thing for the right reason: her love for her child. She’s not superhuman; her arduous quest is fueled by maternal instinct but sometimes that’s the most powerful thing of all.
Smoke is more elusive as a character. He’s a little too perfect for me—studly, aces on a motorcycle, trusts Cass instantly though there’s reason to think she might be carrying zombie cooties, he’s strong but tender, etc. Then again, I’m glad Cass has such a man accompanying her. An out-of-shape sissy who hurts himself riding a motorbike and cries for mama when he sees zombies would have been no good. And Smoke doesn’t get to rescue Cass in the end. She leaves him behind on her final task and saves her own damn self.
Littlefield has a way of turning mundane things from Before into wistful memories in Aftertime, making me appreciate what I have here and now. In one scene, Cass closes her eyes and daydreams about vacuuming, moving her arms in the motion of a chore that no longer exists in a world where everyone and everything is dirty. She imagines turning on the faucet at a sink and feeling cold water rush over her arms. All of a sudden I wanted to wash my hands and do some vacuuming—a task I have no love for—just because I can. By the time Cass spots defiant dandelions that refuse to die among the ruins, I was convinced they’re the most beautiful flowers on earth.
Nerd verdict: Engrossing Aftertime