Some of my favorite elements from The Afterward was how E. K. Johnston plays with this idea of what happens after the big quest is over.
It has been a year since the mysterious godsgem cured Cadrium’s king and ushered in what promised to be a new golden age. The heroes who brought the gem home are renowned in story and song, but for two fellows on the quest, peace and prosperity do not come easily.
Apprentice Knight Kalanthe Ironheart wasn’t meant for heroism this early in life, and while she has no intention of giving up the notoriety she has earned, her reputation does not pay her bills. With time running out, Kalanthe may be forced to betray not her kingdom or her friends, but her own heart as she seeks a stable future for herself and those she loves.
Olsa Rhetsdaughter was never meant for heroism at all. Beggar, pick pocket, thief, she lived hand to mouth on the city streets until fortune–or fate–pulled her into Kalanthe’s orbit. And now she’s quite reluctant to leave it. Even more alarmingly, her fame has made her recognizable, which makes her profession difficult, and a choice between poverty and the noose isn’t much of a choice at all.
Both girls think their paths are laid out, but the godsgem isn’t quite done with them and that new golden age isn’t a sure thing yet.
(Disclaimer: I received this book from Bookish First. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
What drew me to The Afterward was not only its promise of diversity, but it’s premise. Too often after books, I think, “How will these characters continue their lives?” I adored how Olsa is pulled along in this epic quest, but then when she comes back, she faces real struggles of how to survive. So does Kalanthe, but I can’t deny that Olsa was the character that drew my heart. Is fame really worth it?
Johnston’s writing transports us from the past, to the after, allowing us to see how the events unfolded. What were these explorers and adventurers thinking before hand and how different are their lives afterward? Combined with the writing and the characters, The Afterward was a fantastic read. The diversity of the characters didn’t disappoint as Olsa is bi and Kalanthe is gay. So you know that this sapphic romance warmed my heart.
But another element that I enjoyed was how Kalanthe talks about her responsibility to herself versus her family. We see both her and Olsa’s point of view and while Olsa talks a lot about how she’s struggling to survive (even in the aftermath of her success), Kalanthe discusses her debt to the Knight system. And a part of the book that is brought up, is the question of this fairness. It costs money to train knights, and the only way to train knights from lower classes is for them to accrue debt, but for Kalanthe, she faces a future of being married so that her debt can be paid.
My only minor complaint is that it was difficult sometimes to figure out who was speaking. The different changes in POV isn’t always labeled, so that made reading a bit more difficult. But other than that, what kept me reading were the characters and seeing Kalanthe and Olsa struggle with their future after the big quest.