Cover image for The afterward
The afterward
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337 pages ; 22 cm.
It's been a year since the mysterious godsgem cured Cadrium's king and ushered in what promised to be a new golden age. The heroes who brought home the gem are renowned in story and song, but for two fellows on the quest, peace and prosperity don't come easily. Apprentice Knight Kalanthe Ironheart wasn't meant for heroism so early in life, and while she has no intention of giving up the notoriety she's earned, reputation doesn't pay her bills. Kalanthe may be forced to betray not her kingdom or her friends, but her own heart as she seeks a stable future for herself and those she loves. Olsa Rhetsdaughter was never meant for heroism at all. Beggar and thief, she lived hand to mouth on the streets until fortune--or fate--pulled her into Kalanthe's orbit. And now she's reluctant to leave it. Even more alarmingly, her fame has made her profession difficult, and a choice between poverty and the noose isn't much of a choice at all. Both girls think their paths are laid out, but the godsgem isn't quite done with them and that new golden age isn't a sure thing yet. In a tale both sweepingly epic and intensely personal, Kalanthe and Olsa fight to maintain their newfound independence and to find their way back to each other.--


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"I love this book so very much."--Robin LaFevers, New York Times bestselling author of the His Fair Assassin trilogy

Romantic high fantasy from the bestselling author of Star Wars: Ahsoka and Exit, Pursued by a Bear.

It's been a year since the mysterious godsgem cured Cadrium's king and ushered in what promised to be a new golden age. The heroes who brought home the gem are renowned in story and song, but for two fellows on the quest, peace and prosperity don't come easily.

Apprentice Knight Kalanthe Ironheart wasn't meant for heroism so early in life, and while she has no intention of giving up the notoriety she's earned, reputation doesn't pay her bills. Kalanthe may be forced to betray not her kingdom or her friends, but her own heart as she seeks a stable future for herself and those she loves.

Olsa Rhetsdaughter was never meant for heroism at all. Beggar and thief, she lived hand to mouth on the streets until fortune--or fate--pulled her into Kalanthe's orbit. And now she's reluctant to leave it. Even more alarmingly, her fame has made her profession difficult, and a choice between poverty and the noose isn't much of a choice at all.

Both girls think their paths are laid out, but the godsgem isn't quite done with them and that new golden age isn't a sure thing yet.

In a tale both sweepingly epic and intensely personal, Kalanthe and Olsa fight to maintain their newfound independence and to find their way back to each other.

Author Notes

E. K. Johnston is a Canadian author and a forensic archeologist. Her books include The Story of Owen, Prairie Fire, A Thousand Nights, Spindle, That Inevitable Victorian Thing, and Exit, Pursued By a Bear.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 4

School Library Journal Review

Gr 8 Up-A year has passed since Sir Erris and her band of lady knights (and one male mage) found and used the Godsgem to get rid of Old God and free the king of Cadrium from his enchantment. While they all basked in glory and fame, the two youngest members of the group, Olsa and Kalanthe, find their lives very difficult. Olsa, a thief who is now too-easily recognized, keeps being arrested and only kept from prison through the intervention of her knightly friends. Apprentice Knight Kalanthe must find a husband to marry and to pay her debt from her training. Despite their close and romantic relationship, Olsa finds that Kalanthe has grown impatient with having to rescue her from prison and after her latest caper, she remains imprisoned. When Mage Ladros discovers that the Godsgem's hiding place is not as secure as first thought, he frees Olsa from prison and gathers the rest of the lady knights to unite one more time to save the kingdom. Both the world-building and the LGBTQ romance are well done and appealing. Kalanthe and Olsa have strong characterization. The other knights, while not as well drawn, add depth to the action. Plot action, divided into "Before" and "After," could initially make readers wonder if the book is a sequel, but the structure becomes clear after a few chapters. VERDICT A delightful tale that should appeal to fans of the author's work and Malinda Lo's fantasies.-Janet Hilbun, University of North Texas, Denton © Copyright 2019. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

Lady knights return to town as heroesand struggle with life after fame.Sir Erris Quicksword returns victorious to the city of Cadria with her six faithful companions, having managed to find the magical godsgem and destroy the evil Old God. Welcomed home with great rewards and acclaim, Sir Erris marries the king, and peace returns to the kingdom. Bisexual Olsa Rhetsdaughter, the one lowborn member, feels utterly abandoned and falls back into a life of struggle and thievery. Meanwhile, apprentice knight Kalanthe Ironheart, who is lesbian, returns from her first mission only to prepare apprehensively for marriagelikely to a wealthy man hoping for heirs and willing to pay off her family's debt. Johnston (That Inevitable Victorian Thing, 2017, etc.) weaves a compelling fantasy world in which meticulously crafted female characters slip easily between chain mail and dresses, enjoying many freedoms and yet facing economic and biological pressures to marry men. The narrative flits between the great quest and "the afterward," revealing the romantic love between dutiful Kalanthe and defiant Olsa. The characters are diverseincluding trans and asexual representationand many are portrayed as beautifully dark-skinned with natural hair. Impatient readers will note that there's an awful lot of armor and weaponry with very little questing. It's with some relief that there's trouble in the realm once again.Fascinating female characters in a richly built fantasy world that delivers slowly on adventure. (Fantasy. 13-16) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

When the King of Cadria fell ill, it seemed that the once-vanquished and cruel Old God was returning, so champions were ­assembled three knights, an apprentice, a mage, and one thief to find the famous godsgem and destroy the Old God forever. Winning the battle, they returned to living their lives, and the thief went back to her trade, little realizing she was the key to the final fight. This is a female-driven high-fantasy adventure, and the lesbian love story between thief Olsa and apprentice knight Kalanthe is as much the point as the good-versus-evil trope that packages it. There is an understated yet intimate (not explicit) bed scene well integrated into the plot and not at all sensationalized. Johnston's (Exit, Pursued by a Bear, 2016) latest boasts a diverse cast of characters (in terms of ethnicity and sexual orientation), where five of the six champions are young women. Told in chapters that move between the past and present, this is a positive story about friendships, loyalty, and achievement.--Cindy Welch Copyright 2019 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

An emotionless world where feelings are a commodity. A murderer pursuing a homecoming queen. These suspenseful novels showcase teenage ingenuity. WITH THRILLERS ON THE RISE 1? young adult literature, novelists are asking a question that adult authors and filmmakers have posed for years: "Who can you really trust?" The difference is that with Y.A., the answer generally isn't nobody. It's not that the stakes aren't high for teenagers. In four new novels, love, friendship and identity prove to be fraught - even deadly - propositions. Still, at some point in their struggle, the main characters decide to trust someone. And that, as the poet says, makes all the difference. s. E. grove's provocative new novel, the WANING AGE (Viking, 273 pp., $18.99; ages 12 and up), isn't overtly political, but it extrapolates from what might gently be called the downward trend in empathy in some pockets of America. Natalie Peña is an 18-yearold hotel maid living in San Francisco in a dystopian near-future. In her desensitized world, people lose all capacity for emotion at about 10, psychotic gangs called Fish ravage the city, and hateful 1-percenters buy "synaffs" from a pharmaceutical behemoth named RealCorp just so they can feel. Love, fury and agony have become playthings and status symbols - Botox for the heart. This being a dystopian novel, the folks at RealCorp clearly aren't the good guys. Early on, Natalie discovers that they've kidnapped her precious 11-year-old brother, Calvino, for testing. Calvino has never "waned," possibly because of the trauma surrounding his mom's death. He is a true empath and hence an invaluable lab rat. Grove, author of the "Mapmakers" trilogy, mixes action, noir, bram science and moral philosophy here. The book has its shaggy moments, as when it bogs down by distinguishing emotions from instincts. But at its best, "The Waning Age" is visceral and disarmingly smart. Natalie's quest to free Cal - and Cal's increasingly desperate loneliness at RealCorp - becomes gripping. And Grove refuses to write down to her audience, which makes her kin to her main character. Natalie may just barely remember what it means to feel, but she's as defiant and loyal a big sister as anyone could ask for. IT'S been said that there are only seven plots in existence: the slaying of a monster, the rise from rags to riches and so on. Karen M. McManus's debut smash, "One of Us Is Lying," a crackling murder mystery about high school detention, reminded us to add an eighth to the list: "The Breakfast Club." Her new novel, two can keep a secret (IF ONE IS DEAD) (Delacorte, 352 pp., $19.99; ages 12 and up), may be titled and packaged to look as much like a sequel as the law will allow, but it's actually a different beast - unfortunately, a tamer one. The new novel is set in Echo Ridge, Vt., that "Echo" being a wink from the author: It seems that whoever killed the homecoming queen five years ago has either returned or inspired a gloating copycat now targeting this year's festivities. "Two" unspools more slowly than "One," and the mystery doesn't deepen as the townspeople gossip - it just gets more convoluted. We warm to the alternating narrators as they warm to each other: Malcolm, "the band nerd with the disreputable family," and Ellery, the true-crime buff whose mom is in rehab. But there's a solar system of others meant to distract us from the true killer and, honestly, they're just kind of distracting. McManus is a gifted writer with a devious mind for crime. She could have done more to transform these scary-movie tropes, just as she jolted "The Breakfast Club." Both her novels trade on the idea that even teenagers have secrets worth lying and possibly dying for - which is empowering, in an odd way. But "Two Can Keep a Secret" is a holding gesture rather than an advance. Read it, but know that McManus has more electrifying novels to come. WHAT ARE HEROIC KNIGHTS supposed to do once they've finished saving the kingdom and it's time to break up the band? Open a theme restaurant? Release solo albums? E. K. Johnston's sly, funny, foamy adventure THE AFTERWARD (Dutton, 337 pp., $17.99; ages 12 and up) intertwines a quest to vanquish an evil old god with the aftermath of the expedition, in which our heroes try to establish a new normal in a world where people sing ballads about their awesomeness. "The Afterward" is written as Arthurian high fantasy and takes place in a land called Cadrium, which, appealingly, doesn't have our dogmatic notions of gender and sexuality. Virtually everyone in the brave cast of characters is a young woman or identifies as such. What pulls you along, more than the scuffling over an all-powerful "godsgem," is the love story between the thrill-seeking thief named Olsa and the stouthearted apprentice Kalanthe, whom she sweetly refers to as "my brave nearlya-knight." The structure of "The Afterward" is trickier than it needs to be. It not only moves back and forth through time but also alternates between first and third person. (Whoever decided that the book could forgo the convention of putting characters' names at the beginning of each chapter they narrated was ... incorrect.) But the gender flip is effortless and enlivening: "I leaned into her, and she looked down at me. Then, because I was a thief, I stole a kiss." Even the less vivid chapters have rousing set pieces, and Johnston's love for storytelling is catching. Here's hoping "The Afterward" becomes the first m a series. Kalanthe and Olsa's happily ever after will be like no one else's. the first test of a whodunit is how heartstopping and strange a thing has actually been dun. In SPIN (Scholastic, 400 pp., $17.99; ages 12 and up) Lamar Giles (no relation) nails the murder: An up-and-coming young D. J. named Paris Secord is found in an "almost religious" tableau, slumped over her turntables and bleeding from the head. Giles also puts a pair of memorable "detectives" on the case: two of Paris's sharp-elbowed high school friends, Kya and Fuse, who formerly vied for her attention. The girls try to set aside their mutual distrust and team up to solve their friend's killing, partly to exonerate themselves but mostly because they don't trust the police to understand how deeply Paris's life mattered. "Spin" has jolts and misdirection. It has duplicitous bloggers, avaricious music executives and sadistic fans in white masks. But what's even more impressive is the subtle stuff you almost don't notice because Giles wears his intellect so lightly: the masterly knowledge of hip-hop and R&B; the command of technology's uses and abuses; the discerning ear for the way high schoolers talk, both to one another and to grown-ups. Giles understands the complex force field between generations. He knows that when parents and grandparents say they "expect more" from teenagers, it's often because they haven't bothered to figure out who the teenagers actually are. A two-time nominee for an Edgar (as in Allan Poe) award, Giles is also a terrific plotter. Yes, there's a character who so obviously might be the murderer that he/she can't possibly be the murderer. But evaluating suspects is part of the ritual and the fun, and everyone here feels palpably real. At one point, someone compares Kya and Fuse to Veronica Mars. He may not know what a compliment that is. "Spin" champions the resourcefulness of teenagers and pities the grown-ups - villainous or just clueless - who underestimate them. JEFF GILES is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and the author of the series "The Edge of Everything."



After   As a rule, Olsa Rhetsdaughter avoided breaking into a house through the nursery. More generally, she avoided housebreaking, especially now that she operated without protection, but as the rain poured down on the city of Cadria, she was almost grateful to escape the soaking cold. She was used to sleeping rough--had slept rougher, as a point of fact, than she would tonight. But she hated the wet--how it permeated everything from her clothes to her hair to the slick stone of the wall she was scaling--and hated it all the more now that she didn't have reliable access to a good fire. There would probably be several of those inside the house, as the wealthy owners warded off the damp. Once she reached her destination, she paused halfway over the sill and surveyed the layout of the room as best she could in the dark. Her preference for a job of this sort was a musty attic or, in a pinch, an unoccupied guest room. There were just so many obstacles in a nursery: toys strewn on the floor; more than the usual number of beds; the family cat; and, of course, the children themselves. Children were restless sleepers. Children required lamps left lit in case they woke up in the dark. Children asked questions. "Are you Olsa-thief-of-the-realm?" The voice was high enough and young enough that she couldn't tell whether it was a lad or lass who spoke, but the question froze Olsa in her tracks halfway across the room. Dammit, she'd done such a good job of opening and shutting the window too. "No," she hissed. "I'm a demon that preys upon waking children in the dark. Go back to sleep." "I think a demon would be taller," said a second voice. This one was almost certainly a girl. "Also, demons are usually on fire." Olsa sighed. All she wanted was a quick, easy job, and those were increasingly hard for her to come by. She'd taken this one because it had been a slow week, because her percentage of the take was high, and because the family she'd be stealing from employed one of the best cooks in the city. She'd been planning her detour through the kitchen on her way out in almost as much detail as she'd been planning the actual heist. "Yes," she said, flopping gracelessly into the chair by the fire. She was probably destroying the fine upholstery with her soaked tunic and hose, but the fire was warm enough that she couldn't bring herself to care. "I'm Olsa." "Oh, tell us about the godsgem!" said the little one, a girl after all, bouncing across the room to sit in front of her, as though Olsa were her nurse. "Papa is a gem merchant, so I've seen lots of pretty stones, but they say the godsgem is the prettiest." "She knows Papa is a gem merchant, Ildy," said the older girl. She was at the age where she felt it imperative to remain dignified at all times, so she didn't bounce, but she did come closer and take a seat. "Why do you think she's here?" "Be quiet, Mina," the little one, Ildy, said. "I want a story." "If you'll both be quiet, I'll tell you," Olsa said. It wasn't the best plan she'd ever had, but short of diving out the window right now and making a run for it, she couldn't think of anything else. She was caught, but it was better to be caught by these two than by their parents or whatever burly servants they had kicking about the house. Also, it was a very good fire. Olsa decided it was worth the risk. The girls settled in front her, their white nightgowns tucked neatly under their legs. Soon, they would be too old to sit on the floor. Their skirts and stays would require chairs. Olsa wondered if either of them had ever sat cross-legged in their lives. She'd had to teach Kalanthe how to do it, and Kalanthe wore trousers half the time anyway. Money made a person very strange, and Olsa was more aware of it now than she had ever been. "The first time I saw it," she began, "I thought to myself 'I could see a roomful of gems, all piled up on top of one another, and be able to recognize this one immediately.'" "What does it look like?" asked Ildy. "Hush," said her sister. "It's not large and it's not cut very well," Olsa said. "From the stories, you'd imagine an emerald the size of my fist, cut with so many facets that the reflected light goes off in all directions at once. The truth is that the godsgem is much smaller, and almost raw." "That doesn't sound very special at all," said Mina. "You hush," said her sister. In spite of herself, Olsa smiled. "It doesn't look like much," she continued. "It doesn't have to. As soon as you see it, you know it's special. It sings, you see. Imagine the most beautiful hymn you've ever heard at the temple. The kind they sing on festival days, where the different sections of the choir layer their voices over each other's in more than four parts. Now, imagine that, but a hundredfold. The most complicated and the most beautiful music you've ever heard, so much so that you can barely stand to listen to it, because you know that once you start, you'll never want to stop." "That sounds dangerous," said Mina. "Of course it was dangerous," said Olsa. She shook herself a bit to try forgetting what the godsgem had sounded like. Of course it didn't work. It never would. The song would haunt her for the rest of her life. "That's why they sent all those knights to find it." "Quicksword and Stonehand and Fire-Eyes and Silverspoke," said Ildy, rhyming them off like a psalm. Olsa had seen them all naked, so she was somewhat less impressed by them. "And the Mage, of course." "And Ironheart," said Mina. "And you." "Why did they send you?" Ildy asked. "I asked myself that question a lot," Olsa said. "The truth is that I'd done Sir Erris Quicksword a couple of favours. She needed a spy, and I was available. Only the men I was spying on got wind of it, somehow, and sent some footpads to cut my throat. I escaped them, but I knew I needed better sanctuary. I didn't much fancy shutting myself up in the temple, so I went to Quicksword herself and she took me with her. Then I stayed because I didn't have anywhere else to go, and because the gods like it when the people on a Quest stay the same." "They say the king picked those knights and you because you each matched a facet of the new gods," Ildy said. "Don't be foolish, Ildy," Mina said. "Everyone knows that the king had given instruction to let Sir Erris make her own decisions, and that meant picking her companions, and she picked the ones she thought it would the hardest for the Old God to tempt." "You don't know the half of it," Olsa said. It wasn't Kalanthe's soul she was thinking of. "But, yes, Erris picked who went." There was a creak in the hallway, and Olsa tensed. Neither of the girls reacted, and presumably they weren't supposed to be out of bed at this hour. They wouldn't get in nearly as much trouble as Olsa would, but no one likes to be punished. Perhaps it was the cat. Olsa knew from casing the house that the family cat was enormous, and it wasn't in the room with them. "Tell us about Kalanthe Ironheart," said Ildy. It was more a plea than a demand. She wasn't old enough that she was used to being obeyed without question yet. Olsa paused. Both Mina and Ildy were leaning towards her now, eager to hear a story about the Apprentice Knight. Kalanthe, like herself, had only been on the Quest because of circumstance. Young though she was, she was the same size as Sir Erris and could wear her armour. It was decided that if she came along, she could be used as Erris's double if the occasion called for it. Since the older knights were much older and the Mage was mostly unapproachable, Kalanthe and Olsa had spent a lot of time together. It hadn't been very much fun at the start, but, well, it didn't much bear thinking of, to be honest. "Ironheart will be the perfect knight someday," Olsa said. She was plagiarizing a little bit, but maybe these girls hadn't heard that particular ballad yet. It was easier to think about Kalanthe if she didn't have to use her own memories to do it. "Tall and strong and dedicated. Pure of heart and sure of arm." Less pure and less sure when it came to other areas of expertise, but that was hardly fit for young children. Also, it was exactly the sort of memories Olsa did her very best to avoid thinking about. "At the very moment when Sir Erris Quicksword needed her, Ironheart was there," Olsa continued. She could see the scene in her head, replaying as it always did when she thought about Kalanthe and tried not to think about Kalanthe at the same time. Which happened fairly regularly. "In an act of sheer defiance and bravery, she threw her axe at the Old God's altar." Both girls gasped, their faces lit with glee. They knew the story after all, it seemed, though they hadn't heard it from someone who had been in the room where it happened. "You know the Old God's power," Olsa went on. "Dark and cruel, it could not be broken by so simple a thing as a knight's axe, even when the knight was good and righteous as Kalanthe Ironheart." She was very proud of herself for saying that last part with a straight face. "But it was enough to split the Old God's attention," she said. "For a fraction of a second, He turned his awful face to Ironheart." It had been a terrible moment. Olsa had been certain that Kalanthe was going to die for her bravery. "And in that moment, Erris Quicksword struck," Olsa said. "Like her name says, she moved so quickly I could barely see her arm. Instead, it was a blur of motion as her blessèd sword came down on the altar and, with the power of godsgem, smashed it to pieces." "And that was the end of the Old God," Mina said. "And the start of the new age with our King restored." "Something like that," Olsa said. She wasn't particularly fond of the new age. She was a lot hungrier in it. There was another creak from the hallway. This time, Olsa was sure it wasn't the cat. She hated leaving a job undone, but there was no way she'd be able to ditch the children and complete her thievery now. That chance had been lost as soon as Ildy woke up, and now it was time to abandon the house completely. Another failure and another night as the most famous person in the realm who wasn't going to get any supper. At least she was warm and her tunic had dried out. She looked back towards the window, her escape, and counted out how many breaths it would take her to cross the room to it and jump. Without warning, the door to the nursery slammed open. Though she was prepared for it, Ildy and Mina were not. Both girls screamed at the noise and kept screaming when, instead of the familiar faces of their parents, the nursery filled with soldiers-at-arms in the uniforms of the city watch. Olsa dove for the window, but as soon as she had it up, she saw the torches below and knew there was no escape that way either. She looked about for another rooftop, but found nothing. That was why she'd had to scale the wall to the nursery window in the first place. The chief gem merchant of Cadria took few chances when it came to home security. She turned around to face the watch. The girls' mother had come in and was soothing them. Mina looked calm, but Ildy was furious. Olsa did her best to swallow a smile. It appeared she had made another noble friend, for all the good it was about to do her. "Olsa Rhetsdaughter," said the leader of the watch, her tone more resigned than anything else. "You are under arrest." Excerpted from The Afterward by E. K. Johnston All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.