It's an exceptional author who can move you with the beauty of the emotions they evoke. It's more obvious when it's joy, hope or love. But just as beautiful, in their own way, are the wrenching feelings Sophie Littlefield elicits in her dystopian Aftertime trilogy. In this second installment, we see grief, despair, and hopelessness. It's heartbreaking, but you can't look away. You don't want
to look away. You keep reading, refusing to relinquish the hope that after the darkness will come the dawn; after the misery, we'll be rewarded with some kind of triumph.
Cass has created a makeshift home and family in the trading center known as the Box. She has reunited with her daughter Ruthie and she has allowed herself to fall in love with Smoke. But the fragile happiness she has found is short-lived. When Smoke gets word that the Rebuilders have killed many of the refugees in the place where he once lived, he goes on a vengeance mission; one likely to lead to his death. And he doesn't even say goodbye. Cass decides to leave the Box with its founder, Dor, as he goes in search of his daughter Sammi, who was taken by the raiding Rebuilders.
Cass is devastated by Smoke's abandonment. She blames herself for allowing him access to her heart. She acts out, trying to harden herself. She makes reckless choices that you can see like a train wreck a mile away. And maybe that will alienate some readers. To me, it just made me see her as more broken. She is trying to rebuild the wall around herself that Smoke had penetrated, and somehow manages to drag Dor into her warped decisions in the process. The book follows Cass, Dor and Ruthie as they infiltrate the Rebuilder camp and learn more about the group's nefarious plans.
I suppose from this review, you'd never know this book is about a post-apocalyptic world, overrun by zombies. That's because, to me, that's just a backdrop to watch the lives of these characters unfold. To watch Cass break and rebuild. To watch Ruthie heal and grow. To watch Dor unwittingly shed his cloak of solitude and allow Cass in. And, of course, to see the human condition when people are stripped of the trappings of modern life... from the screwed-up ideals of the Rebuilders to the bandits who accost unwary travelers to the heartbroken mother who refuses to accept the fact that her son is dying. It's absolutely mesmerizing. And hauntingly beautiful. Even more powerful than its predecessor. 5 stars. *ARC Provided by NetGalley