Note: I received a copy of Afterparty from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Not to be repetitive, but I’m going to go ahead and start this review the same way I’ve started all my Daryl Gregory reviews this year: I am so excited about Daryl Gregory. There are writers in this world I love better and will reread oftener, but I am excited about Daryl Gregory because he has such good ideas. He has such good ideas that I enjoyed a zombie novel. He has such good ideas that I annoyed my relatives by forcing them to listen to my recaps of the premises and payoffs of more than one of his books, along these lines:
Indie Sister: Stop! What? Don’t tell me the ending, I might read it!
Jenny: BUT IT IS SUCH A GOOD IDEA OMG I WANT TO TELL YOU.
Indie Sister: Don’t tell me! Don’t tell me! Shut up!
Jenny: CAN I TELL YOU A LITTLE BIT?
(Sorry, Indie Sister! Sorry, Mumsy!)
Afterparty, Daryl’s fourth and newest novel, takes place in Canada of the near future, when drugs can be printed with chemjet printers in any quantity the drug dealers might desire. Suffering from withdrawal from a drug she calls Numinous, a teenager kills herself in the mental hospital where Lyda Rose lives. (Yes, she’s named after the song from The Music Man; yes, that song has been stuck in my head all week.) Lyda instantly recognizes the effects of the drug. She’s a member of the team that helped develop it, in an attempt to cure schizophrenia; instead they produced a drug that makes you experience God. Lyda herself is an atheist, but since her accidental overdose on the drug at a party that left her wife dead, she’s never been without her hallucinated guardian angel. Horrified that the drug is on the streets, Lyda leaves the mental hospital on a quest to find out who released the drug, and to stop it from spreading farther.
There are so many good things about Afterparty that I scarcely know where to start, so I guess I’ll start with an ideological one: Diversity! First of all, here is a book with two queer women as the main characters (yay!); second, the supporting characters are pretty widely diverse as to gender, race, sexuality, socioeconomic background, and mental health status, and none of this is exoticized or fetishized. Third and my favorite, Lyda (who is white herself) includes “white” in physical descriptions of characters who are white. Which was so, so nice to see, although really everybody should be doing it. The common authorial assumption that the reader will envision every character as white unless notification is given to the contrary is just one of many yucky ways that whiteness is reaffirmed as a societal standard from which other races are deviating.
Next up: Ollie! How I loved Ollie. She’s described thus on first appearance: “Ollie used to do things for the US government, and the US government used to do things to Ollie.” Lethally brilliant and increasingly paranoid when she’s off her meds, Ollie breaks out of the mental hospital to help Lyda on her mission to track down the source of the Numinous. Like Harriet Vane, Ollie is one of those love interest characters who make me think more highly of the person they’re a love interest to. Lyda isn’t the most sympathetic heroine I’ve ever encountered — she can be ruthless and unkind, including to Ollie — but I stayed in on her because of how hugely and how consistently she admired Ollie’s genius:
“It’s the fever talking,” Ollie said. She straightened, but her eyes held mine. Oh, she was quick. All she needed was the smallest nod to point her in the right direction.
There aren’t enough good things to say, too, about Lyda’s drug-induced angel. The angel is Lyda’s better half, the voice of her conscience and of her subconscious, as helpful to Lyda as she is irritating. Though Dr. Gloria sometimes says angel-type things (“Lo, I am with you always”), she’s more prone to wry remarks and smartassery:
“This is a Sig Sauer P226 with an E-squared grip. It’s my favorite side-arm. I’ve had it since Toronto.”
I didn’t know what was more alarming, that she had a gun, or a favorite.
“It’s that she’s got a gun,” Dr. Gloria said.
“I’M SENDING GPS coORDinates. DRIVE THERE.”
“Why are they using so much distortion?” Dr. Gloria said. “There’s perfectly good speech modification technology out there.”
I ignored her. The voice said, “PARK and turn OFF your LIGHTS.”
“They could sound like a British nanny or Samuel L. Jackson, any accent they like, and it would be just as untraceable….I suppose they think it makes them sound tough,” Dr. G said. “It’s like a font for gangsters.”
If I had one quibble, it’s the reveal at the end of the book, in a section that you think is going to be denouement but it turns out not exactly to be. In a book as thoughtful and nuanced about human motivations as Afterparty, this reveal felt out of place. But it’s a very minor thing in a tremendously fun book. If you haven’t read anything by Daryl Gregory yet, Afterparty is an awesome place to start.