It’s been a while since I read Angelfall the first book in Susan Ee‘s fantasy/dystopian trilogy called PENRYN & THE END OF DAYS, but a few details remain clear in my mind: the strong narrative voice, the desperate post-apocalyptic situation, and the spunky teenage protagonist whose only goal was the protection of her schizophrenic mother and paraplegic sister.
Picking up where Angelfall left off, World After finds seventeen year old Penryn being transported to one of the few human communities that remain intact after the recent angel invasion left the world ravaged by war and destruction. Believed dead after the climactic conclusion of the previous book, she’s really just paralysed due to the terrible experiments that angels are performing on human subjects.
That’s nothing compared to what’s happened to her sister Paige, now covered in stitches, blank with shock, but able to walk once again. As soon as mobility returns to Penryn, she again asserts responsibility over her tiny family while sharing information with the Resistance over what she was able to learn about the invasion and why the angels have arrived on Earth.
But Penryn has two secrets she keeps to herself: the friendship she fostered with an angel called Raphael (or “Raffe” for short) and the sword in her possession, which is rightfully his. Having gained a level of notoriety among the other residents of the compound, Penryn is eager to keep her head down — though her mother and sister make that easier said than done.
When Paige’s monstrous appearance leads to a mob attack and her subsequent disappearance, Penryn and her mother set off across the remains to San Francisco to find her — all the way to Alcatraz where angels are overseeing the transportations of humans onto the island and old prison complex.
Along the way, the sentient sword shows Penryn glimpses of its history with Raffe, providing hints as to why the angels have invaded Earth and their fraught relationship with humankind. But it’s not until they reach Alcatraz that Penryn is once again brought face-to-face with Raffe himself, who has spent their separation believing her dead…
What makes Susan Ee’s trilogy unique is that the end of the world is not explored on a global scale, but through the limited point-of-view of a single teenage girl. Trying to get answers about what’s going on is a matter of being in the right place at the right time and overhearing discussions between angelic beings that aren’t meant for human ears.
And these angels are not the benevolent creatures we’ve come to recognize in popular culture, but Old Testament warriors that view human beings as anything from slaves to test subjects. In the face of their power, it seems almost ludicrous that such a thing as a “Resistance” could even exist let alone make any sort of difference.
But in Penryn Susan Ee has created a winning protagonist: determined, sardonic, grungy, and with an altruistic streak that she just can’t seem to get rid of. Although some fans may be disappointed that Raffe only re-enters the story about three-quarters of the way through, Penryn easily holds the reader’s attention across the course of the book.
World After is imminently readable what with its brief chapters and quick pacing, though there is quite a lot of gore and violence — more so than I’ve ever seen in a YA book before. Some might be a little put-off by what’s depicted here; let’s just say that some of the angelic experiments have resulted in monstrous hybrids that Ee isn’t shy about describing (both in how they look and what they do).
If anything, World After does fall into the familiar trap of many middle instalments: setting up a lot of unresolved plot-points, and ending on something of a cliff-hanger. As such, it feels more like a placeholder than a story in its own right, one which will become heavily dependent on how well the final book resolves all the issues that are raised here.
Still, Susan Ee has demonstrated she’s capable of delivering a satisfying sequel, so there’s no reason to doubt that the final book won’t be as suspenseful and gritty as the first two.