Set in the New Orleans of the future, Afterlife gives us a chilling look at what humanity might become if we developed the technology to transcend death. The Fresh Start company uses clones and memory “downloading” to resurrect anyone with the money to pay for the privilege, up to a total of nine lives. But as we quickly learn, there are so many things that simply weren’t thought out before the technology was unveiled.
The hero, Chaz Domingue, is a scion of the family that founded Fresh Start, but his older brother is the one who inherited the billion-dollar empire. Instead, Chaz works as a Babysitter, shepherding the newly resurrected through their first disorienting days after returning to life. Since acquiring his latest charge, the lovely Angelique, Chaz finds that danger is stalking him and his family but doesn’t know why. The answers may lie in Angelique’s fragmented memories, and what the two of them learn has the potential to affect the fate of all humanity.
Merrie DeStefano drops the reader right into the action; for the first few chapters, you may feel as lost as Angelique herself, trying to get your bearings in this strange new world. The chapters are short and tense. Each chapter focuses on one incident, either in the main narrative or in the characters’ past, and most of the chapters conclude with a revelation that propels the plot forward or gives us further information about Chaz and Angelique’s world. They are told from several points of view, including Chaz, Angelique, a couple of villains, and a dog (I love the dog). The rapid-fire chapters can feel choppy at first but keep the story moving at a good clip.
Despite this quick pace, Afterlife is a book that tugs at the heartstrings. Some passages will be hard to read if you love children; others will be hard to read if you love dogs. What the novel won’t really do is make your heart pound with romance; the romance is not the focal point of the story and is rather thinly developed. Obviously, some readers will like this non-romanciness and others will not.
Afterlife features some Christian themes and motifs. These are handled well; the story asks a number of questions about death and the soul with very little preachiness. There were only a few moments that seemed to preach. It’s more that the “rules” and internal logic of Afterlife are rooted in the Christian cosmology.
If there’s a sticking point here, it’s a small one, but one that packs a big punch. The word “Mongoloid.” I could never quite suss out from context what it means in the novel’s world, but I gather that it’s not the same thing it means in our world. Nonetheless, it does mean something in our world, and it’s a word I have a visceral negative reaction to. It’s not an epithet I like to see used by a hero I’m supposed to be sympathizing with, so it took me longer to start liking Chaz than it otherwise would have. I found myself wishing DeStefano had made up a fictional epithet instead.
Other than that, Afterlife is an addictive read, with a breakneck pace that might fool you into thinking it’s “just” a thriller — until you realize how deeply it has its claws in your emotions. I recommend it to anyone looking for something different in urban fantasy. It’s not quite like anything else I’ve read, and blends urban fantasy, science fiction, philosophy, and apocalyptic fiction into one satisfying whole.