Monday, July 1, 2013

Review: IN THE AFTER by Demitria Lunetta

They hear the most silent of footsteps.
They are faster than anything you've ever seen.
And They won't stop chasing you...until you are dead.

Amy is watching TV when it happens, when the world is attacked by Them. These vile creatures are rapidly devouring mankind. Most of the population is overtaken, but Amy manages to escape—and even rescue “Baby,” a toddler left behind in the chaos. Marooned in Amy’s house, the girls do everything they can to survive—and avoid Them at all costs.

After years of hiding, they are miraculously rescued and taken to New Hope, a colony of survivors living in a former government research compound. While at first the colony seems like a dream with plenty of food, safety, and shelter, New Hope slowly reveals that it is far from ideal. And Amy soon realizes that unless things change, she’ll lose Baby—and much more.
Once again, I handicapped myself by not fully absorbing the synopsis. Usually, I read the synopsis carefully when deciding to read a book and then avoid it while actually reading so as not to taint my knowledge. However, I didn't do the first part so well when looking over In the After. I heard something about daytime zombies and was a goner after that. Can you blame me?

Part One of the book was pretty stinkin' good. Amy and Baby live alone in Amy's old house, kept alive by the electric fence that separates them from the creatures outside. Inescapably fast with excellent hearing and a ravenous hunger for meat - any meat - the creatures have decimated Earth's population. Amy and Baby have been on their own for three years and have stayed safe by following a few simple rules.

1. Stay inside the fence during the day. The creatures are extremely hard to kill, but they have been unable to breach the electric fence.

2. Only go out at night. The creatures' eyesight is horrible. During the day, humans are snatched up with ease, but at night, a quiet person can sneak right under their noses.

3. Don't make a sound. Amy hasn't spoken a word in three years and Baby has never learned to talk. Silence is safety.

I was already on board with how different this zombie tale seemed to be. The zombies I know are slow, plodding creatures who come out at all times of day but are especially active at night. These zombies are fast, faster than any man or beast. They are also diurnal creatures, making night, traditionally the most frightening hours, the safest time of day.

Then came the twist. As Amy goes about her day, she often flashes back to the earlier times in the invasion. Yes, invasion, for the creatures came by ship. They're not just zombies. They're ALIEN zombies. (Or zombie aliens, whichever you prefer.)

Apparently, this sort of thing has already been discussed in various circles.
I LOVED the world Ms. Lunetta created. It felt real and gritty. Amy is sixteen and Baby is only six or seven, but thanks to Amy's ultra-prepared parents, they're able to stay alive. Amy reminded me of Katniss with her hardened attitude, hard-won experience, and indomitable will to survive. I loved the barren cityscape, the rotting food and evidence of long-past violence, the crushing silence. I don't know why, but silent characters really get to me. Perhaps because I enjoy not talking so much myself? In any case, though I wondered how Ms. Lunetta would sustain the story, I could have stayed forever with Amy and Baby, their makeshift sign language conversations, and their carefully planned midnight raids.

This is where not reading the synopsis bit me in the butt, because I was completely unprepared for (and dissatisfied with) the trip to New Hope halfway through. My cool post-apocalyptic survival novel morphed into this oppressive, predictable dystopia. Blehhhh. DO NOT WANT!

What's even worse, in my opinion, was the temporal structure. Technically, Ms. Lunetta relies too heavily on flashbacks throughout the novel. In the first half, very little time is spent in the present, as Amy is constantly thinking back to her early months alone. Still, such flashbacks taught me about the invasion and her struggles to survive alone, so I allowed them. But the timeline really screws up once in New Hope. I'm still trying to accustom myself to the fact that Amy and Baby are no longer alone when suddenly we jump months into the future and a drugged version of Amy is trying to remember what happened in the past (which, to us readers, is the present). So drugged Amy is moving forward in time while trying to remember backward. Present Amy is moving forward in time through drugged Amy's slowly reconstructed memories. And reader Shelver sits in the middle of it all, grumbling.

I think the timeline was built to create suspense as drugged Amy sits in la-la-land and slowly pieces together the awful creepiness that is New Hope. It all builds to this big reveal of what's really going on and New Hope and what's going on with the creatures, etc. etc., but the entire setup failed for me. I knew what was going on. Though I didn't know the details, I could guess in broad strokes what the big twists would be, so waiting for drugged Amy to get her act together and remember it all was a drag. And since Amy is remembering herself discover these things rather than just out-and-out discovering them, the story felt very passive.

I also didn't appreciate the ending, because I failed to realize that the book was part of a series until it suddenly STOPPED. Nothing. The end. Radio silence. Where's my closure?!

I suspect that readers newer to post-apoc, zombies, and/or dystopian fiction may enjoy this book more than I did. Being able to guess all the twists sapped the joy of the story from me, and the weird timeline failed to deliver. (Note to all authors: If you have to completely screw with the chronology to give your story enough heft, you may need to rethink your story.) I know a bunch of you were interested in In the After, and I encourage you to proceed in your reading. Just be sure you know what you're getting into.

Points Added For: The interesting zombie/alien thing, the complete silence of the first half, post-apocalyptic survival!

Points Subtracted For: A strange narrative structure, predictable twists, an ineffectual potential love interest, an abrupt ending with very little closure.

Good For Fans Of: Really fast zombies in need of glasses, post-apocalyptic survival novels, creepy iron-fisted societies with sinister motives.

Notes For Parents: Language, typical (yet creepy) evil medical experiments/punishments.

Note: I received an e-galley of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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