Horizon (Luna Books)

It’s rare that I just take to a book, a series, or a character as strongly as I have with Sophie Littlefield’s Aftertime novels and their main character, Cass.  I was lucky in that I came to the books just before the newest one, Horizon, came out, and thus I was able to devour all three in a short period of time.  Of course, that also means that I came to the end of the story that much quicker (much to my chagrin), but I can also happily report that Horizon was well worth it.

(Description nicked from B&N.com.)

“Cass Dollar is a survivor. She’s overcome the meltdown of civilization, humans turned mindless cannibals, and the many evils of man.

But from beneath the devastated California landscape emerges a tendril of hope. A mysterious traveler arrives at New Eden with knowledge of a passageway North—a final escape from the increasingly cunning Beaters. Clutching this dream, Cass and many others decamp and follow him into the unknown.

Journeying down valleys and over barren hills, Cass remains torn between two men. One—her beloved Smoke—is not so innocent as he once was. The other keeps a primal hold on her that feels like Fate itself. And beneath it all, Cass must confront the worst of what’s inside her—dark memories from when she was a Beater herself. But she, and all of the other survivors, will fight to the death for the promise of a new horizon….”

Ah, Cass… my favorite flawed heroine.  Her struggles are so real and so immediate that they are oftentimes hard to read.  It’s not that they’re badly written; on the contrary, it’s just that they’re so painful that you hurt along with Cass.  Within a very few pages, the author reveals that Cass, a recovering alcoholic, has begun to drink again.  It’s fascinating to watch Cass’s justifications and rationalizations as she fights not to slip too deeply into her addiction.  What’s even more interesting to me is how we as readers are inside Cass’s thoughts and can watch this process unfold.

One doesn’t normally think of zombie novels as having depth, but this one paints a profound portrait of survival, both from outside threats and inner demons.  It’s not just Cass that has to deal with her failings in Horizon—Smoke has as much darkness inside his mind as Cass has in hers.Both will have to face not only their own troubles, but those of the other, and those of their community at large.  Think of the group that Cass and Smoke live with as a complex microcosm of humanity, one that’s made up of many vastly different personalities, and you’ll see a cross section of life that suffers all of the shortcomings of a larger society.It makes you wonder how well you’d do if you were in a similar situation.

With this novel, readers finally get the answers to some of the long running questions.  We find out what happened to Cass during those lost weeks after the Beater attack, and what Smoke did in his past that changed him so drastically.  And let me tell you: both revelations are huge.  It’s made even better by the journey that we as readers have taken along with these characters over the course of the series.

As the novel progresses, we get some hints as to what has happened in the world beyond the Rockies, and that’s something that I sincerely wish that Littlefield will go back and explore.  From what I’ve seen online, Horizon is the last book in the series, and if it ends here, I can be satisfied with that.  But darn it, there are so many possibilities that can still be explored with this world!  I’m going to hold out hope that the author just might be persuaded to return to this story and expand on it a little bit more.

Let’s put it this way: I’m going to have to do one of two things: meet the author in person and give her puppydog eyes until she succumbs and promises to write more; or delve into the realm of fanfiction and strike out on my own.  Yes, I liked this storyline that much.  That should tell you something.

This is a satisfying conclusion to a story that has pathos, action, terror and hope.  The Aftertime novels, and Horizon in particular, grab you and force you to look at the world around you and wonder what would happen if it all fell apart.  How would you react?  Would you survive?  And how well?  Prepare for a few sleepless nights as you work your way through Horizon.  There’s so much more to these books than just zombies.

Also by this author: Aftertime, Hanging by a Thread, Rebirth

This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on February 2, 2012.

Series: Aftertime
ISBN: 9780373803422
Publisher: Luna
Page Count: 400
Publication Date: January 24, 2012
Acquired: Provided by the publisher as an e-ARC through NetGalley
Author Website