review: afterlight

Afterlight by Elle Jasper (2010)

Afterlight is the first book in Elle Jasper’s vampire/paranormal romance series, The Dark Ink Chronicles. Yes, I’m bringing you a vampire romance novel today, so let’s get the preliminaries out of the way, shall we? If you liked the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer, but at the same time prefer your vampire romances to be written for adult readers (as opposed to young adult readers), you will like this first book in the Dark Ink Chronicles. I stumbled upon Afterlight while browsing the shelves of my local used bookstore. It’s been on my bookshelf for at least a year now, but with loads of time on my hands at the moment and nowhere to really go (I read this book during my state’s stay-at-home order prompted by COVID-19), I’ve been searching for new series to dive into and focused on clearing my physical and virtual bookshelves. I decided to finally pick up Afterlight, and the truth is that it kept me up past my bedtime and then kept me entertained for the better part of a Saturday. At the time of this writing, this book isn’t available from my local library or through Kindle Unlimited, but if you find it on your next trip to your local used bookstore and you like vampire romances, it’s worth your book dollars.

Afterlight is set in Savannah, Georgia. While many of the stories I have read that are set in Savannah emphasize the prevalence of ghosts, this book offers a slightly different view of Savannah by giving the protagonist, Riley Poe, an opportunity to discover the existence of the supernatural beneath the surface of the normal, human world she has always known. Riley is twenty-five and owns her own tattoo shop, called Inksomnia. She’s also the guardian of her fifteen-year-old brother, Seth. Though the novel is careful to stingily dole out insights into Riley’s past, we know from the very beginning of the story that her teenage years were wild and troubled. Two of the people who helped her get her life back on track are Preacher and his wife, Estelle. They are Gullah and own the shop next door to Riley’s, called Da Plat Eye (more on them later). When the story begins, Riley is tracking down her errant brother, who has gone to one of the local cemeteries with a group of his friends after hours. But it’s her brother’s visit to the cemetery that night and the trouble it brings that sends Riley’s world spiraling out of control and pushes Riley out of the normal life she’s known and into a world where vampires are real. Riley’s need to save her brother is what drives the action plot of the novel, but it’s also how she meets Eli Dupré, which in turn sends the love plot into motion.

The story is told entirely from Riley’s first-person POV. If you’ve been around my blog for a while, you know what I’m going to say next—the first book in a series must have a compelling protagonist if the writer wants readers to anxiously await and come back for the second book. The question then, of course, becomes, is Riley Poe a compelling protagonist? In my opinion, Riley is interesting enough and unpredictable enough to keep me turning the page to find out how she handles discovering she lives among vampires. Jasper is careful to make sure that Riley has secrets, secrets she isn’t quick to unravel even as her attraction to Eli Dupré grows stronger. Riley is also what has come to be known as the “strong female protagonist” and yet there is also a tension between Riley being capable enough to take care of herself and smart enough to know when she needs help. Because of her past, it’s easy to argue the possibility that Riley is on a redemption arc, and this would explain why one of her primary motivations is to protect those she loves as well as innocents who are being preyed upon, just as she was preyed upon in her youth. Riley is likable and readers will find her first person narrative easy to slip into and tag along with her as her adventure unfolds. There are some characters you simply love, characters who you cannot get enough of, characters who make you feel all of the emotions. Riley Poe wasn’t one of these characters for me. Not yet, anyway. I liked Riley, but she wasn’t so compelling to me as a character that she’s become my latest character obsession (we all have those, don’t we?). Her character is well-developed in the first book in this series, and she has enough potential for me to be willing to give Riley Poe another opportunity to totally win me over.

If you’re writing the first book in a series, the supporting cast is also of vital importance. Afterlight actually has a strong supporting cast with lots of potential for creating a richer and more intricate story world. I’ve already mentioned Riley’s brother, Seth, but there’s also Riley’s best friend, Nyx, who is also a tattoo artist and works in Riley’s tattoo shop, Inksomnia. So far, Nyx plays the role of human who is still blissfully unaware of the existence of vampires. In regard to mentor/parental figures, Riley has close relationships with Preacher and his wife, Estelle. They have been surrogate parents to Riley and are also the characters she is most likely to go to when she needs advice. I have also already mentioned Eli Dupré as the love interest in the novel. Inevitably, readers of the Twilight series will compare him to Edward Cullen (not an entirely unfair comparison since these two novels mostly live within the same broad genre of vampire romance, even if the intended audiences differ). Eli is…definitely not a carbon copy of Edward Cullen. He is intriguing and, at least in this first book in the series, compelling enough that when he was absent from the narrative for a while, I wanted him to come back. He’s not the most compelling vampire I’ve met in my reading adventures and also isn’t on my list of latest character obsessions (if you really want a new character obsession in the form of a vampire, go and find Matthew Clairmont), but again, he’s developed well enough to make me want to see what he does next. The supporting cast is rounded out by Eli’s vampire family, consisting of his mother and father, Gilles and Elise, and his three younger siblings, Phin, Luc, and Josie. In this regard, the Dupré family reminds me a lot of the Cullen family. They take Riley—as well as her brother and even Nyx—under their protection and her fight to save Seth becomes their fight as well. Jasper really has done a really good job of offering a supporting cast that readers will relate to and offering more than just cardboard characters intended to fill a particular role in the story.

Jasper does make a couple of creative choices that typically turn me off as a reader. One is the use of dialect—used primarily by Preacher and Estelle, but also when one of the Gullah characters speaks; the other is the heavy use of slang—used by all of the characters who are close in age to Riley. After a while, both got a little tedious for me. I know, I know. Sometimes I can be a snobby reader, but part of my job here is to offer insight into the book that you won’t necessarily pick up on in the back cover copy or the short sample available for download. If these devices bug you, then you’ve been warned.

When it was time for me to rate this book, I couldn’t decide between three stars and four stars. Really, I wanted to be able to give it a 3.5 star rating, or maybe even 3.75. I didn’t love this book, but it’s so much better than a lot of paranormal romances out there. I didn’t want to rush to download the next book to my kindle, but I did put the next book in the series, Everdark, in my shopping list so that I won’t forget about it. Afterlight was a good diversion and entertained my mind, and if you like vampire romances I do think you’ll enjoy this one.

Have you read Afterlight? What did you think?

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