Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Hereafter (Afterlife #1) by Terri Bruce

Even though she has to work the next day, Irene goes out drinking with the girls.  Her friends sensibly tell Irene to take a cab with them but Irene, realizing that she needs her car to get to work the next day hops behind the wheel of her car.  Irene then suddenly finds herself standing on the side of the road next to her car.  It takes a while for her to realise that not only is she dead, no one can see her or hear her.  Luckily for Irene she meets, Jonah whose interest in death rituals has allowed him to find a spell which allows him to speak to and interact with the dead.  Irene, with Johah's help, embarks on a mission to learn what comes next or more specifically, what to make of her undead life.

Fans of urban fantasy won't find much to draw them into this story.  Irene is indeed a ghost but this is far from a typical ghost story and is actually more of an examination of life - specifically what matters and what doesn't. There is little action to speak of and the one major question which is asked throughout the novel really doesn't get answered.  Despite that fact, Hereafter doesn't have an incomplete feeling and this is probably because I personally could not take another minute of reading about Irene the protagonist.

Irene is an extremely unlikable character and it is worth noting that I don't believe Bruce means the reader to identify with, let alone like Irene. She is very much in denial that she died as a result of drinking and driving and might even have a drinking problem.  Though Irene is a supposedly 36 year old woman with an M.B.A (a fact we are reminded far to often), Jonah, her 14 year old sidekick, is far more mature than her.  Irene vacillates constantly between fits of rage and remorse. She lashes out cruelly at Jonah though he does nothing but help her, risking the trust of his parents and his good school record.  At times, I honestly could not understand why Jonah kept coming back because Irene was certainly not worthy of his attention, let alone his concern.  Irene is beyond self absorbed and only seems to show momentary concern for Jonah when he is in physical danger.

The plot of Hereafter is quite slow moving.  Though Jonah encourages Irene to plan and act with agency, the only time Irene acts with any agency is when she is being petulant.  As a result, events just seem strung together with Irene simply reacting and Jonah playing the role of the clean up man. Hereafter is set up as an existential crises which is a boring read at the best of times.  I kept waiting for Hereafter to go somewhere and the ending was simply anti-climactic after all of those pages of angst.

There is a slight hint of romance in Hereafter but it never really goes anywhere, much like the side characters in the book. We learn very little about anyone beyond Irene and Jonah.  The side characters seem to function sort of like guides to point Irene to the different places she will investigate on her quest to decide whether or not she will cross over.  When you consider that the side characters were not developed and Irene behaved like an irritating petulant child, it's really no wonder why I had difficulty investing in this story.

Far too typical for the genre, Hereafter was heavily erased.  Bruce did take care to mine cultures of colour for woo which irritated me because she couldn't be bothered to include a character of colour.  We did have one character in particular express racist comments about Chinese people and Bruce made no effort to have another character (Irene) point out how problematic this language is.  Hereafter also engaged in a lot of classism.  Walking the streets, Irene encountered several homeless people and only expressed revulsion. There was no discussion of how people end up homeless and the impact of a capitalist society.  The homeless largely existed to be shamed.  This fact was refied when Irene herself realised that she was homeless commenting that with her M.B.A she shouldn't be in this position.

I found that I could not invest in this story and had to work to finish it.  My opinion of Hereafter did not improve with the cliffhanger ending, obviously constructed as such to inspire the reader to read the second book in this series.  The cliffhanger, which is a cheap device, is the only hook that Hereafter has and certainly not enough to create real interest.  The best thing that I can say about Hereafter is that Bruce spared us purple prose even if she delivers a double helping of angst.

Editor's Note: A copy of this book was received from Netgalley