Amish. Vampires. Need I say more? Didn’t think so. A standalone novella set in a dystopian world devastated by plague, After the Blood by Marjorie M. Liu is rife with imagery and mystery. The blurb certainly got my attention, and the story of plague and semi-sentient forest more than lived up to my expectations. My only complaint is that I want to know so much more about these characters and this world; I didn’t want the story to end.
Amanda lives at the dawn of a new age after surviving a merciless pandemic. Humans must subsist off the land far from quarantined cities now overrun by plague and forest. Not only has the environment undergone a drastic transformation, but the bodies and minds of people are changing in ways that can’t be explained. When the true nature of this world begins to forcefully reassert itself into her life, Amanda must face the deadly reality of what stalks the woods bordering her farm. If she has any hope of protecting a neighboring family with ties to her past, she must go up against her own personal fears and the family’s intense denial.
Gradually, more of the world and more of the characters’ history are revealed while the reader is drawn into an alternate/post-apocalyptic universe destroyed by some sort of plague. A limited cast of characters kept the plot moving and focused. Survival is the ultimate goal, and the story begins with a bang (a.k.a., one of the best intros I’ve read in quite some time).
I didn’t have time to grab my coat. Only shoes and the shotgun. I had gone to sleep with the fanny pack belted to my waist, so the shells were on hand and jangled as I ran.
Come on, who doesn’t need a fanny pack? Plus, this fanny pack contains the VERY rare commodity of ammunition. Amanda, the narrator, is the only person in the area with any ammunition thanks to her doomsday prepper father. The supplies that her father amassed, along with any she’s been able to add to her stores, allow her to subsist in spite of sparse conditions and the feared creatures living in the forest. We only get glimpses of the creatures at first, as they live in shadows of the forest and only venture out after dark. Amanda is also the protector of an Amish vampire, Henry, and his younger brother. From the start, it’s clear that Henry and Amanda have some sort of tangled past. There are moments of longing and cryptic comments that imply some sort of past relationship.
I had so many questions when I started reading. While most of those questions were answered, I now have approximately one million (give or take) more new questions. Amanda, Henry, and Steven (Henry’s younger brother) are different from everyone else somehow. They know they are different and that the forest changed them. Everyone appears to be afraid of the forest and large fences protect homes from the forest denizens (some sort of weird zombie-creatures). The culmination of events didn’t answer many questions at all, but I found that I didn’t mind. In spite of these challenges, Amanda is strong and resilient throughout. Learning more about her history with Henry only made me admire her fortitude even more. While I didn’t want to like Henry, there was something about each character, something so human, that naturally engendered sympathy. These people do the best they can with limited resources in a world twisted by plague and the distrust of survivors.
I highly recommend this standalone novella, After the Blood, to anyone that enjoys dystopian, post-apocalyptic, and/or fantasy genres. The story itself is comprised of puzzle pieces. The ending doesn’t reveal the whole picture, only a small corner of a wonderfully fascinating world.