Cover The Afterward: A group of fantasy women dressed in armor with fierce looks on their faces

About the Book

Title: The Afterward
Published: 2019
Swoonworthy Scale: 6

Cover Story: And My Axe!
BFF Charm: Platinum and Heck Yes
Talky Talk: Classic With A Twist
Bonus Factors: David & Leigh Eddings, Female Fantasy Heroes, Diversity
Relationship Status: My Hero

Cover Story: And My Axe!

That’s one good-looking group of won’t-put-up-with-your-shit women. Who needs a man around to protect you when you can hang with the rock stars who saved the world? Kudos on making the cover art look just like their character counterparts, even down to Olsa’s braids.

The Deal:

Most fantasy books start at the very beginning: someone is trying to ruin life as we know it, and it’s up to a merry band of brave souls to stop it. They go on an arduous journey and (generally) emerge victorious having managed to keep their land safe from evil-doing for the time being.

This isn’t that story.

Olsa and Kalanthe’s narratives begin a year after they’ve saved the kingdom of Cadria from the Old God and secured the powerful godsgem. While notoriety may be nice, it’s made Olsa’s line of work (thieving) that much more difficult. She’s well beyond her last strike with the King’s magister but she can’t just quit stealing: her hero’s reward may have helped her free herself from her thieves’ debt, but it doesn’t keep food in Olsa’s belly or a roof over her head.

For Kalanthe, life has always been about becoming a knight and knowing there was a steep price to pay for that privilege. Ever since she was eight and went into debt for her supplies and training, she’s known that one day she would have to marry a wealthy man to pay back her loan. But now that the time is finally here, it’s impossible to fathom the actual act—for more reasons than one.

The journey to defeat evil may be exciting and intense, but it’s what comes after that’s worth sticking around for.

BFF Charm: Platinum and Heck Yes

BFF platinum charm

Oh, Olsa. You are the real gem here. I wanted for nothing more than Olsa to get everything she desired. She has the right mixture morally gray gooey insides and practical smarts that instantly drew me to her. She’s been an orphan for so long she doesn’t even realize how much she yearns for family and companionship. Now that she’s had a taste of that acceptance and adventure on the road, Olsa isn’t content to go back to living her former life, no matter how much she may try to lie to herself. Her willingness to do what needs to be done combined with her pragmatic and witty personality often made me think of Gen from The Thief, which for me is high praise.

BFF Charm Heck Yes - sparklier and shinier than the original BFF Charm

Kalanthe is no less precious to me, but she has a rigid morality that makes her life difficult, and she’s probably not quite as fun to let loose with. She is loyal almost to a fault, which reminded me of another knight-in-training, Keladry, from Tamora Pierce’s Protector of the Small series. They are the kind of women you want in charge, taking care of business, and obvs I appreciate their knight’s code of honor. Kalanthe is a great friend to have on your side, especially when you get into as much trouble as Olsa does. I felt for Kalanthe’s situation, and I was rooting for her to have her happy ending.

Swoonworthy Scale: 6

Olsa and Kalanthe fell in love in the year they spent on the road together, but over the last twelve months since their valiant return almost everything has conspired to keep them apart. Kalanthe’s refusal to see any alternatives to marrying a man for his money frustrate Olsa, especially because she is too honorable to make those vows and keep a mistress on the side (even if Olsa is more than willing). Cue the tortured looks. The flashbacks to their time on the road give us the depth and sweetness we need to see in order to root for the two to be together.

Talky Talk: Classic With A Twist

E. K. Johnston has made a high fantasy that is my jam, y’all. There are echoes and homages to so many other authors that I adore, but never in a way that feels too ham-fisted. The entire concept of The Afterward is fun and different and immediately drew me to the book. I was a tad surprised that we did end up getting alternating chapters that show us the “Before”, but since the tension of those segments wasn’t focused on will they succeed—as we already know they do—it became more of a study in character motivations and, thus, helpful to deepening the current plot.

I also love that this book is a standalone, which seems rare in the fantasy genre. Johnston cleverly used tropes from other high fantasy books to make her world instantly familiar—so I didn’t feel like I had to learn an entirely new mythology—while still putting enough of her own spin onto it to make it fresh. By the time I turned to the last page, I was basking in that warm, tingly glow of having spent worthwhile time with some great new friends. The Afterward is a palate cleanser and a breath of fresh air rolled into one.

Bonus Factor: David & Leigh Eddings

The covers from David Eddings' series, The Belgariad

I had a “Did we just become best friends?!” moment with the novel as soon as I noticed Johnston’s dedication was to David and Leigh Eddings, the couple who wrote some of my favorite books of. All. Freaking. Time. The Belgariad series follows Garion, a young farm boy who begrudgingly sets out on an adventure with his aunt and a vagabond storyteller and his questionable friends, not realizing his entire life will never be the same. That five-book series and its sequels, The Mallorean, are my classic high fantasy standard I hold all others to, and I have read them more times than I can possibly count. There were so many little shout-out moments (Olsa and Mage Ladros, the Old God’s mythology, the godsgem, the snark) that tugged at my fangirl heart. 

Bonus Factor: Female Fantasy Heroes

Alanna, a female knight dressed in armor, from the Song of the Lioness Quartet

How often do we see a group where the women outnumber the men in fantasy? There’s a token female or two, but it’s the guys who usually get all the glory. What I loved here is that in Johnston’s world it’s more than acceptable for women to be knights (in fact, it took awhile for a male knight to even show up. I almost assumed it was completely a female-dominated field). And those women heroes are not just excellent mages or are a Chosen One, they are great with axes and swords and put in a lot of hard work to be defenders of the kingdom.

Bonus Factor: Friendship

Characters from Baby-Sitters' Club show sitting on a bed talking and laughing.

I loved that Olsa and Kalanthe were able to keep in touch with the older and more experienced people in their group of seven (a perfect questing number), even with the “true” hero of Cadria, Sir Erris, who became Queen Erris after making the killing blow against the Old God. They both needed some big sister guidance, a motherly hand, or a kindly uncle figure at times, and everyone jumped in to subtly play their part for their younger compatriots.

Bonus Factor: Diversity

Faces of all different races, ethnicities and genders.

Classic high fantasy may include races like Orcs and Elves, but they can sometimes leave much to be desired about real-life diversity. There are people of all skin colors and sexualities in Johnston’s Cadria, and no one bats an eye.

Relationship Status: My Hero

Thanks for being there for me, Book. Your good humor made you a joy to hang out with, your code of honor makes me feel safe knowing you’re strong enough to protect me from whatever comes my way. You always have a place to stay with me when you pass through.

Literary Matchmaking

Alanna: The First Adventure (Song of the Lioness #1)

For the gold standard in women-becoming-knights fiction, you simply must check out Tamora Pierce’s The Song of the Lioness Quartet starting with Alanna, The First Adventure. (And then go read everything else she’s written.)

The Thief (The Queen’s Thief #1)
The Queen of Attolia (The Queen’s Thief #2)
The King of Attolia (The Queen’s Thief #3)
A Conspiracy of Kings (The Queen’s Thief #4)

For political intrigue and a lot of the before, the after, and the in-between, you’ll do no better than Megan Whalen Turner’s The Queen’s Thief series.

First Test (Protector Of The Small #1)

Tamora Pierce actually has two series about female knights, so if Alanna is too brash, you’re sure to love the calm and collected Keladry from the Protector of the Small series. The adventure begins in First Test.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from Dutton Books for Young Readers. I received neither money nor peanut butter cups in exchange for this review. The Afterward is available now.

Stephanie (she/her) is an avid reader who moonlights at a college and calls Orlando home. Stephanie loves watching television, reading DIY blogs, planning awesome parties, Halloween decorating, and playing live-action escape games.