Afterlight Review

Review: Afterlight by Jonathan Shuerger

Afterlight is a driving sword and sorcery featuring our favorite Paragon Hero / Evil Sorcerer Anti-hero team going head-to-head with undead, an array of necromancers, and a Sisterhood of the mad god Ruin. Once again indulging the gory dismemberment of evil’s minions, the Shades of Black series continues strong with this installment.

Here at the Periapsis Press blog, we only post reviews of works we recommend, so you already know I enjoyed Afterlight. I encourage you to check it out!

Disclaimer: We received a copy of this book from the author for the purpose of review. This in no way influences our opinions. (You can request a review here.)

This review contains minor spoilers.

Afterlight Publisher Description:

The World Eater has fallen. Now for Death. Now for Ruin.

The dark sorcerer Ashkelon and his reluctant apprentice Gideon Halcyon leave the carcass of Rachna behind them to confront a new threat. The dead march upon the North, raised by a necromancer far more powerful than any of the house of Sheol, able even to raise the fleshless dead. The Bonescribe has unleashed his hordes, and the world darkens as light itself fails at his touch.

As the dead walk and the light dies, as men break and run around him, will Gideon hold his courage amidst the horrors of the Dark, or will he be forever lost to the Afterlight?




Driving Pace

Afterlight keeps the tension high from beginning to end. Like In Darkness Cast, the characters proactively drive the story forward, and each event builds on the last, with consequences that keep the reader engaged, even when dialogue replaces the physical conflicts.

The fight scenes are still fast-moving and detailed. This time our heroes are up against the undead, an assortment of evil necromancers, and a sisterhood of assassins. The righteous battles are punctuated by plenty of gore.

Heroic Growth

The characters are beginning to deepen in this second book.

Ashkelon is still burdened with frustration towards the Light and quizzes Gideon frequently in his quest for answers. Although there are overt religious discussions between them that reason through apologetic arguments, the characters themselves are so strongly established that the conversations seem to arise naturally from their relationship and personal motivations, rather than an outside evangelist puppetting a hypothetical exchange between a believer and non-believer.

But Ashkelon is most pressed by his new responsibilities towards a young girl. He finds himself looking at the world a bit differently and acting more directly in the battles they face—delivering cold retribution to anyone who threatens her. Gideon is also facing a shift in perspective, finding himself feeling a bit uncertain about the ultimate purpose of heroism when it most recently resulted in his exile from the woman he loved. He still runs pell-mell into battle, but our beloved paragon may be facing some tough times ahead.

None of these elements slow the pacing. The conversations between Ashkelon and Gideon are always charged with tension due to their conflicting worldviews and because there is not necessarily a given “winner” in their discussions of faith. Ashkelon’s development holds discomfort for him and death (as many times as is necessary) for anyone who crosses him, so there is no shortage of entertainment there. Gideon’s arch is occasionally frustrating, but it never becomes a slog of navel-gazing. There is always another enemy on the horizon!

The Army

The Shades of Black world is crawling with evil, some aligned with one of the four demon gods (death, hunger, pain, and ruin) and some serving their own purposes. The servants of the Light, who Ashkelon despises so much for their hypocrisy and cowardice, perpetrate some horrific acts of their own. It is not hard to believe that Gideon is the only hero that Ashkelon considers worthy.

In Darkness Cast saw Gideon and his friends fighting in the north, Viking style. Now farther south (but not quite out of reach of the desolation Ashkelon caused) they find allies among a slightly different culture. This time they fight alongside a formal army. Although armed with pikes and swords and serving a distant King, this war machine is a modern one with rank emphasized over station, and corrupted in its administration rather than its lords and nobility.

Our legendary warriors are not overshadowed. Mediocrity and conformity are not their lot, and the captain has the good sense not to force them to take a place in the shield wall. Readers are treated to a great variety of fun: an army holding the line against zombies, Marines fighting to defend their bar, Gideon bulldozing through undead, the old Wolf Skald and the titan Ursus going head-to-head with immortal female assassins, and Ashkelon banishing the source of his ire through a rift into the Dark to be feasted on eternally.

The Shepherd

In this book, there is an actual Jesus stand-in character who appears to Gideon in the physical world. This suffers from some of the usual problems with such scenes, but is an interesting section.

Thematically, for example, it causes some reflection on the biggest question presented in the first book: Where is your God? Well, here he is, and he is doing some of the typical things we expect from Jesus characters—mostly speaking cryptically and not effecting the conflict directly.

I’ll admit this was my least favorite part of the book, but I found I had some theological divergence from the author that was largely to blame (I tend to have a very high view of God’s Sovereignty, even in matters of belief). I’ve made the point before that the depiction of perfect theological accuracy is not a responsibility of fiction, so ultimately, this does not change my feelings on the overall quality of Afterlight, and I found the Shepherd a provoking component of the Shades of Black series. It will certainly be interesting to see where the character goes and how he continues to affect the established themes.

Check Out Afterlight!

Afterlight is a fantastic sequel that continues to deliver fast-paced action and pressing themes as it continues the adventures of Gideon and Ashkelon. I am so excited for the next installment of the Shades of Black series!

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