Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

afterworlds A review by Nalini Haynes

Darcy wrote a novel, Afterworlds, for NaNoWriMo. Among the thousands of monkeys hammering away at typewriters for the month of November, she was the lucky monkey who landed a publishing contract at the ripe old age of 18. Now she must suffer through a structural edit. To keep her publisher happy, she needs a new ending. Then there are copyedits. The magical ‘stet’ must be applied. (And all the editing students wipe away tears of laughter.)

Instead of heading off to college, Darcy decides to move to New York to work. She finds herself in YA heaven and even gains a love interest. Her best friends Carla and Sagan come to visit, arriving at Darcy’s housewarming in time to meet Stanley David Anderson, aka Standerson. Afterworlds is full of in-jokes and comment on the YA and fantasy community, enriching the story for those in the know. If you aren’t ‘in the know’, the story still has depths because REAL-LIFE PUBLISHING TRIUMPHS AND TRAGEDIES.

Darcy’s story is juxtaposed with Lizzy’s. Yep, Westerfeld goes there. Lizzy (not Bennett) is Darcy’s protagonist who crosses over to the Afterworld during a terrorist attack on an airport. This experience changes Lizzy, revealing a fantasy underworld while dubbing her the ‘chosen one’: in this case, a psychopomp. Who has a crush on Yamaraj, a Hindu god of death.

The two stories could be read separately, which endeavour is made easier by the fantasy story having black headers and footers while the ‘real-world’ story is au naturel. At times these stories being juxtaposed is distracting: when Darcy is told to rewrite the opening chapter, pause, think: the opening chapter over 200 pages earlier is the re-drafted chapter not the original.

Early on the two stories seem disparate but by the end parallels develop; the reader sees Darcy’s life bleeding more into her fiction.

If Afterworlds was a movie, it would pass the Bechdel Test with flying colours, hands tied behind its back while doing aerobic somersaults. The queer romance is lovely, focusing on the relationship while omitting the plumbing. Darcy has friends of various genders including the aforementioned Sagan and Standerson. Darcy and Sagan are Indian although Darcy’s protagonist is white: Darcy wants to write ‘everygirl’ not a Mary Sue. Issues of appropriation are raised, first by the strident Kiralee (another author), then, filled with self-doubt, Darcy wallows in fear and self-loathing. Thus Westerfeld covers a gamut of issues while sitting in the authorial seat. Oh, wait. Afterworlds is a Mary Sue.

Part of me would like to leave Darcy and Lizzie right here, on the cusp of something new, with no sequel; this is a great place to wait for the next instalment. Current fashions in fantasy publishing and Scott Westerfeld’s history of writing trilogies make an Afterworlds trilogy highly likely but I have no inside information.

I enjoyed Afterworlds: it’s fun fantasy read and a must-read for aspiring and emerging writers no matter your genre. If you read Afterworlds this week then you’ll have added insight when joining the performing monkeys attempting to reproduce Shakespeare’s sonnets during NaNoWriMo this November.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5 stars
ISBN-13: 9780143572046
ISBN-10: 0143572040
Format: Paperback, 608 pages
Publisher: Penguin