I loved Zoo City – it’s one of my all-time favourite reads – see my review. And when I saw this one right at the beginning of the COVID lockdown, I requested it despite the pandemic theme. My heart goes out to Beukes as the timing for this one is dire.
BLURB: They’ll call her a bad mother. Cole can live with that. Because when she breaks her son Miles out of the Male Protection Facility – designed to prevent him joining the 99% of men wiped off the face of the Earth – she’s not just taking him back.
She’s setting him free. Leaving Miles in America would leave him as a lab experiment; a pawn in the hands of people who now see him as a treasure to be guarded, traded, and used. What kind of mother would stand by and watch her child suffer? But as their journey to freedom takes them across a hostile and changed country, freedom seems ever more impossible.
It’s time for Cole to prove just how far she’ll go to protect her son.
REVIEW: The way the apparently innocent flu mutates into something far more lethal is both scary and plausible – particularly now. I thought the worldbuilding was particularly good, but then that’s Beukes’ superpower, anyway. A post-apocalyptic America where many are reeling from their losses and trying to do deal with the situation as best they could was well depicted and, for me, one of the more enjoyable parts of the book.
My main problem was that I don’t much like Cole and I loathe Billie and as these are the protagonists, with a few sections in Miles’ head, it meant I spent most of the book tolerating, rather than sympathising with main characters. I found Cole’s stubborn, stupid idea to get Miles “away” almost as dumb as Billie’s nasty scheme, while some of the action scenes descended into a horrible kind of farce. Both sisters weren’t good at listening to others and I was profoundly sorry for poor Miles, who was being dragged around the country on the rather scattered whim of his mother and daily exposed to all sorts of unnecessary dangers. She wasn’t a particularly effective mother who’d bonded well with her son. A lot of the banter between them seemed to be Cole trying to coerce Miles into doing what she wanted, without being too heavy-handed about it. And most of the novel seemed to revolve around the toxic relationship between Cole and Billie, rather than an examination of how a society without men would really function.
As for the ending – what was that about? This pandemic was portrayed as a worldwide problem, so that simply didn’t make sense. That said, this one won’t leave me alone. The ugly muddled scenes of violence… the series of run-down places they stayed and some of the pathetic survivors, who’d lost husbands and sons… I’ve dreamt of these. Which proves that while it isn’t a book I necessarily always enjoyed, nonetheless it has sunk its hooks into my inscape with the powerful worldbuilding and vivid writing. Recommended for fans of post-apocalyptic, dystopian scenarios. While I obtained an arc of Afterland from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
I’m still planning on reading this, although I’m so behind, and I’m glad you found some things to enjoy about it. Many reviewers flat out disliked it…
I cannot deny that her worldbuilding is very powerful and she is a highly talented writer… I just wish I liked her characters more.
Wow, there really have been a lot of books about pandemics this year. Sorry to hear this one didn’t completely work for you. I’ve already read two pandemic books this year so I think I’ve had my fill of the subject at least until we’re through our own, lol.
Oh, I absolutely agree! I’m now completely tapped out regarding any more pandemic books until the situation eases up a great deal more…
I disliked this a lot more than ye did. I enjoyed her writing style (as always) but think this book was a fail for her in terms of plot and character.
x The Captain
I can see why, Cap. Her worldbuilding is always her superpower, which I found compelling. But that ending didn’t make much sense – and I was sorry that I couldn’t have loved her main protagonist more, as she is a mother…
I’ve had to put this down it just was really putting me into a slump. I will pick it back up again but I was definitely feeling your point about not liking the characters at all.
Yes… I was glad it wasn’t any longer – and I’m now steering clear of ANYTHING relating to a pandemic for the rest of the year! I don’t blame you for putting it to one side…
Hmmm. You have me wondering about this one. There are plenty of awful mothers out there–the mom of Manchurian Candidate comes to mind–that can still make for compelling story. Like you said, there still NEEDS to be at least one likeable person in that cast.