I received this ARC of The Afterward by E.K. Johnston (ISBN13: 9780735231894) and couldn't wait to read it! It's an interesting play on after "happily ever after," a sequel without a prequel. As you get into the story, it flashes back to the original adventure, giving out the details piece by piece.
The "original" tale is about a gem that 7 heroes must find to destroy a terrible god. This story starts after they find it and destroy the god, and have gone back to their lives.
Olsa Rhetsdaughter is an unusual heroin. That is to say, she's a thief. Dragged into the original adventure by a knight she has found favor with, she falls in love with Kalanthe Ironheart, an apprentice knight who's future is already written. A future without Olsa. When the epic adventure ends, Olsa is abandoned, forgotten, and turns back to crime to stay alive.
Kalanthe Ironheart has always wanted to be a knight. Her family could not afford the tuition, so she signed a debtor's contract at the tender age of 10, the only way of which she can ever hope to pay back is by marrying rich. Unfortunately for Kalanthe, her heart has never beat for men. She walls off her heart, but Olsa steals it anyway. Now she must face reality and leave Olsa for an unknown suitor who will pay off her knight's debt.
But the gem does not want to be contained. Kalanthe and Olsa find themselves entwined together in another adventure, this time to contain the dangerous gem that could destroy them all.
I will start out by saying that this book is very well written. I flew through it. But there was a certain something missing, that buildup of suspense that you usually feel reading an epic tale. I wanted to feel more than I did. Kalanthe and Olsa are desperate for each other, but it was hard to feel. I almost feel like I would have rather read the original tale by itself, and then read The Afterward, and had it be two separate stories. Or had the flashbacks end on cliffhangers so that even though I knew they survived, I would still ache to know what happened next. The back and forth between the new story and the old could have been leveraged more.
I also felt like there was more of the story world that could have been explained. All of the knights are women. While this is awesome, I want to know why. The knights could still have children, so that means that they would have extended leaves from being knights. How did the kingdom handle that? How did the men handle raising their hero wives' children?
That being said, I did like the story. I just wish there was more of it. I rate it a 3 out of 5.