ARC Review: ‘Afterlove’ by Tanya Byrne

All that time she wasted being too careful or too polite or too scared, when, in the end, nothing is as scary as watching your whole life narrow to a single moment that’s about to pass, whether you’re ready for it to or not.

[Quotes from ARC, subject to change in final edition]

Rating:

3.8/5 paper planes

Content warnings (highlight to see): alcohol; death; grief; Harry Potter references; homophobia; loss of a loved one; references to racist microaggressions; sex/sexual references; vehicular accident

What’s This Book About?

Genre: YA contemporary paranormal fantasy
Publication: 22 July 2021
Pages: 400 (paperback)

Synopsis: THE LESBIAN LOVE STORY YOU’VE BEEN DYING TO READ.

Ash Persaud is about to become a reaper in the afterlife, but she is determined to see her first love Poppy Morgan again, the only thing that separates them is death. 

Car headlights.

The last thing Ash hears is the snap of breaking glass as the windscreen hits her and breaks into a million pieces like stars. 

But she made it, she’s still here. Or is she?

This New Year’s Eve, Ash is gets an RSVP from the afterlife she can’t decline: to join a clan of fierce girl reapers who take the souls of the city’s dead to await their fate. 

But Ash can’t forget her first love, Poppy, and she will do anything to see her again… even if it means they only get a few more days together. Dead or alive…

NOT EVEN DEATH CAN TEAR THEM APART.

Goodreads
Author website

What I Thought:

‘Afterlove’ is a very original blend of contemporary and paranormal fantasy – with such an intriguing synopsis and stunningly sapphic cover this was one of my most anticipated 2021 reads! (On that note I wonder if my slightly deflated feeling post-reading is more to do with my hype for this book rather than the book itself.)

Interestingly, the plot went very differently to what I’d expected from the synopsis! To me the essence of it leaned much more towards contemporary than fantasy. The plot pacing was a little slow initially but once Ash becomes a reaper it picks up. There’s a pivotal scene that I can’t specify because it’s spoilery, but it was utterly epic – so tense, emotional yet somehow hilarious at times.

The way the grim reapers work was fascinating, especially with that twist on what happens next, and while it was frustrating that they seem just as clueless about the afterlife as us regular mortals are, it does feel quite realistic. That said, I’d love to know more about Deborah (who’s sort of like the reapers’ regional manager, sends them details on where/who to reap etc.) and Ash’s fellow reaper Esen. I think the lighter touch on fantasy world-building works fine here though, as the focus is more on Ash and how her relationships change after death. The vividly depicted real-world setting of Brighton grounds the story well too.

BTS Jimin walking along the shoreline in the Spring Day music video
Walking along the shoreline of a blue sea on a blue-skied day

My favourite parts of ‘Afterlove’ were its family relationships, both with Ash’s family and her found family with the reapers and her best friend in life, Adara. I absolutely loved the dynamic Ash had with her parents and younger sister, it made me laugh out loud yet broke my heart too. I also really liked how different social issues are pointed out through Ash’s interactions with and memories of her immediate and extended family, such as colorism and racism towards non-white healthcare workers (Ash and her family are British Indo-Guyanese). This addressing of social issues was a running theme in the book, whether subtly touched upon (such as Poppy’s dad feeling threatened by her mother’s success) or obviously highlighted, for example lesbophobia and Ash being devalued by straight or closeted girls.

I am the first and last and nothing inbetween. The mad one. The wild one. The one who sees things that aren’t there.I am to be unloaded on, to be bled on and cried all over. I am the one they experiment with. The one they can let go with because I’ll never tell. I am the one they have saved in their phone as Alfie or Harry or Luke. The keeper of secrets and soother of guilt. But I am never the one.
I am not to be loved. Not out loud, anyway.

Ash’s character felt so real, flaws and all, and I wish I could have connected to Poppy a bit more. I did like her though! Her backstory was compelling and one of my first thoughts post-Ash’s death was about how she was doing. The romance was a tad insta-love, probably because it’s a bit tell-heavy, but I think conceptually it was also quite beautiful in its giddy fervour, an eternal undying rush that will never fade.

It’s funny because I always thought [Poppy] was the one who was left behind, but it was me, wasn’t it? She gets to move on, to laugh and go out with her friends. Drift on and on, unfazed, unaltered, unaware that I’m still here.

BTS' Jin holding hourglass
Holding an hourglass, time slipping away

Sometimes I could really feel the emotion of their love and sometimes I was a bit more detached. I was the same about Ash’s monologues – they were often absolutely amazing but at other points would take me out of the story.

I don’t know about you but I love reading Author’s Notes/Acknowledgements (and the dedications too). They remind me of how these stories come from real people. I found the Acknowledements here so emotional and they give an extra layer of perspective on ‘Afterlove’, so if/when you pick up this book I’d definitely encourage reading that part too!

Overall there’s a lot to love about this book and if you like reading about family bonds, first love, fantasy elements in contemporary stories, and F/F romance, I’d definitely recommend this!

Thank you to NetGalley and Hachette for an ARC for an honest review.

Thanks for reading! Is ‘Afterlove’ on your TBR? Have you read Byrne’s other books? What contemporary/paranormal fantasy books do you love? Let me know any thoughts below!

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