My rating: 4/5 Stars
Publisher: Skyescape (November 2013)
Length: 438 pgs
Series: Penryn and the End of Days #2
Format: Paperback, purchased from Amazon
In this sequel to the bestselling fantasy thriller, Angelfall, the survivors of the angel apocalypse begin to scrape back together what’s left of the modern world.
When a group of people capture Penryn’s sister Paige, thinking she’s a monster, the situation ends in a massacre. Paige disappears. Humans are terrified. Mom is heartbroken.
Penryn drives through the streets of San Francisco looking for Paige. Why are the streets so empty? Where is everybody? Her search leads her into the heart of the angels’ secret plans where she catches a glimpse of their motivations, and learns the horrifying extent to which the angels are willing to go.
Meanwhile, Raffe hunts for his wings. Without them, he can’t rejoin the angels, can’t take his rightful place as one of their leaders. When faced with recapturing his wings or helping Penryn survive, which will he choose?
I just finished this book nearly and hour ago, and I already don’t know what I’m going to do with myself while I wait for the next book in the series to be released (in over a year)! For those who loved the post-apocalyptic world of Angelfall, the biblical-based angel mythology, and the honesty and agency of Penryn’s character, you will not be disappointed. Susan Ee has officially written my favorite post-apocalyptic, dystopian, YA fantasy series, with a cast of characters who all hold their own and a host of angel antagonists whose motives are wonderfully complex.
If you read and loved Angelfall, and are shipping Penryn and Raffe so hard (like me), then you might find the first 80% of this book to drag. It suffers from what I like to call “New Moon” syndrome, as it’s the second book of a series during which the male lead is largely absent. Yet Penryn is such a practical and resilient character that she doesn’t spend a colossal amount of time dwelling on this fact, and the plot carries a quick pace, unwinding many of the mysteries presented in the first book, as Penryn continues to fight her way through and keep her family safe from the angel and demon ravaged Bay Area (which I mentioned in my review of Angelfall made me delightedly happy, since it’s an area of California that usually doesn’t get used for settings much in novels). In fact, as much as I love the idea of Penryn and Raffe together, she’s such a bold and resourceful character that I find myself cheering for her whether she’s alone or with him, and if it came down to a battle-of-book-characters I think she could fight Katniss Everdeen and give her a series run for her money.
World After also presents engaging new plot points that set up nicely for a longer series, such as the fate of the mutated children like Paige, the idea of a “generated” apocalypse, the divisions of the loyalties of the angels, as well as pulling interesting concepts from the Bible, such as the idea of Judgement Day, the specific plagues to the earth during the apocalypse, and the interpretation of Nephilim. As a Religious Studies major, I majorly nerded out over Ee’s seamless integration of biblical themes in her world building, and she manages to make her angel-ridden world make sense, rather than taking the basic concept of seraphim and completely rewriting their biblical history.
As I mentioned earlier, Ee writes a stunning cast of multi-dimensional characters, and each one poses deeper questions for the reader. Paige’s mother’s schizophrenia is worse in this book, but despite her paranoia she usually has the best survival instincts and the most loyalty to her daughters, questioning how easily society disregards the contribution or mental/emotional capacity of those with mental illness. Paige is a mutilated, morphed shadow of her old self (as is Clara) who is loyal to her family, yet her family has trouble accepting her after undergoing such physical changes. Penryn herself is by no means perfect, and she is often placed in situations where she must do a cost-benefit analysis of what course of action to take: to save her family or save dozens of victims. She’s not inherently selfless nor apathetic, and while her decisions can go either way, her mental struggle is very real, and the situations she’s placed in have the reader questioning what they would do if they were standing right alongside her. Other topics are introduced for the reader’s consideration as well, such as Stockholm Syndrome, politics, military force, class status (as it mostly disappears in the face of the end of the world), the desperation of the human condition, and the testing of family bonds and acceptance in the face of change.
I have to allow myself a moment to completely fan-girl over Penryn and Raffe though (forgive me). Despite his archangel status and her human status, they manage to hold their own with each other, and it never feels like one is pathetically “pining” after the other or subordinate to the other. Yes, they both have moments of emotion, but their vulnerability is real rather than self-depreciating, and their dynamic is balanced, as they have both saved each other’s lives multiple times (who knew angels couldn’t swim?). Raffe is witty and sarcastic, but also has a deep sense of duty and a clear well of emotion due to the trauma he’s endured since the start of the series, and his soul-crushing experiences serve to humanize him, rather than make him some unattainable goal for Penryn. The bond they share through Raffe’s sword is especially intriguing, as it turns out it is a rather sentient being, receptive to the emotions of its owner, and can function much like a pensive. I’m rooting for Penryn and Raffe not because they’re a star-crossed YA couple, but because they defy so many of the YA couple stereotypes and their character development builds off of one another.
If you can handle dystopian fiction with a hint of horror and a touch of gore, I highly highly recommend this series. If you want well-rounded main AND peripheral characters, a breathtaking world of a ravaged Bay Area, a female protagonist with determination and agency, and a love story that develops slowly, deliciously, and realistically (rather than hitting you over the head with it), pick up this series now- you won’t be disappointed.