Welcome to Shoregrave, murder capital of the country. Afterlife brings us to a city where believing in ghosts is second nature, and if you ever claim to have seen one people won't think you're crazy. This is Naomi Clark's first published novel, and first in the Shoregrave series. Since it came out in 2009, I've had my eye on it mainly because I really like the cover. Something about the purple with black works for me, and dig the ghost effects. I pretty much forgot about the book's existence, until recently, but glad I remedied that.
Yasmin Stoker is a wraith who is a ghost tour guide, which is a booming industry in Shoregrave. When night comes, she usually hunts for vampires, here known as Revenants. It's during one of these hunts that we begin our Afterlife journey as she steals and eats the soul of the vampire; a soul she needs to survive on. Not soon after, she witnesses an evil entity killing an innocent person, and she's powerless to put a stop to it. An entity that may just be an indication of weakening in the protective barriers. To complicate matters, Yasmin gets entangled in a case of murdered and missing children, all the while being commanded by a deranged protector of the city to distract the PI doing the investigation into this for fear he might discover the supernatural community.
Afterlife is darker than your usual urban fantasy, quite gritty at times with a noir ambiance. It has a little bit of everything, some mystery, some action, and even some romance. Main problem with the story is that bad guys, and the mystery along it, became a bit too predictable, probably because of heavy foreshadowing. Another issue I encountered was that after the cool initial scene, it takes a bit to get into rhythm particularly as I felt that there was a bit too much info dumping.
Yasmin was a fairly interesting character for me, particularly on how I responded to her. She's not the usual snarky badass character which one can often find in the genre, characters I usually gravitate to. She was more of a combination of a character with a bit of backbone, as we see her when she's hunting, but at the same time quite a submissive character mainly due to being surrounded by powerful entities, like her boss in who protects the community from supernatural threats. Not only that, he's quite abusive and violent. Yasmin is also a combination of smart and dumb. She's not oblivious to the world, but the abuse has taken it's toll on her to the point that she becomes irrationally loyal, often dismissing what's in front of her. It's also fun when she knows she's botching things up, yet can't help herself. In a way, Yasmin reminds me a bit of Kitty Norville from Carrie Vaughn's series. In all, I thought a tricky character to write, but also a character with room for development, particularly as she becomes more assertive, if she manages to.
The book I also thought displayed a myriad of likable characters, including a half succubi, one of the more powerful demon races, who has not had sex for a long time because by doing so she would kill her partner. So it's kinda fun to see as she struggles against her nature and her sexual frustrations. And lastly we have Ethan Banning, our PI. I thought him to be quite an awesome character; a nosy man's man hardboiled detective. Once he arrives I think the book really takes off. He's rough and rude, and I liked it. He's also featured in other stories in this world, which is much welcomed. Banning also brings with him a bit of comic relief, which the book needed I thought to help with the narrative energy.
The biggest strength in the Shoregrave series so far has been it's world building. It features many of the familiar supernatural beings, but the darkness the book mixes with the different planes of existence we could have the opportunity of exploring, makes this an exciting world full of possibilities. Evil beings are evil, no bullshitting around, they are powerful, they flaunt it. There are a few twisted graphic and violent scenes here too. I also enjoyed the depiction of the different familiar supernatural beings on display. The story is all about soul manipulation and soul consumption, from how beings are formed to how they nourish themselves. There's a grey area in this, where does one draw the line. What makes a monster a monster, and it's a constant preoccupation with Yasmin, since she at times behaves like one.
Afterlife is a novel that I think most urban fantasy fans should give a try, enjoyment will mostly depend on how you find Yasmin as a narrator and how much stock you put in mysteries remaining mysteries to the very end. I'm a "it's more about the journey" kind of guy. If Afterlife doesn't seem appealing to you, but you like some really twisted psycho thrillers, then check the novella Demonized featuring Ethan Banning, and maybe just so that you can get introduced to this character it might be worth giving Afterlife a shot anyways. In all, I think Naomi Clark is someone whose stories I want to read, she certainly has talent and I look forward to reading future works from her and see how she has improved. Naomi certainly has some cool twisted ideas, and doesn't seem afraid to push the boundaries when a call for it comes along. There are some hanging plot lines, other worlds, and a possible war yet to be explored, so looking forward to what comes next in Shoregrave.
Where to buy:
Please visit Naomi Clark's site and blog for more information.