Afterlands: Beforetimes - A Forrest Review
I stumbled upon a wonderful short story collection by fellow author Boots—aka @NakedEchidna on Twitter. Paired with whimsical penny-weekly inspired illustrations, these tales weave together the prequels of an upcoming book series called Afterlands. These stories are titled: Beforetimes.
The Harrower is the first in the collection, featuring, of course: The Harrower. He is a sad creature, a bovine with the power of fire, and is unsure of himself. He has no place in the world but to be a tool to be feared and used. We see first hand the cruelty of The Mother, who offers sweet, false words, only to replace them with venom at the drop of a hat. She is the ruler of this land, the purveyor of war, and she rules by fear.
I already love the Harrower and wish him well. These ebooks are set up so lovely, with a great attention to detail both on the cover and on the insides, but also in the worldbuilding itself. I want to read more of this young man and the world he resides in. This land is enticing, and even as little as we’re shown, it is the perfect amount to wrap you in and give you a sense of wonder.
I give The Harrower 4.6/5 stars.
The Lostling: The second short story in this prequel series, we get to meet the Lostling, Hyrhyn. An orphan, she is on the run from pursuers, where she comes upon the Harrower in the forest.
I love this story: Hyrhyn is small, adorable, but fierce and wild. She isn't afraid to speak her mind, nor to do what's right, and when she meets the Harrower, her first instinct is to comfort him, not fear him. She even goes so far to give him a name: Juba.
The war has made people mistrustful, and for good reason. Despite the cute moments between Juba and Hyrhyn, Boots is still able to apply tension by showing us how those living on the outskirts of the war treat creatures/people as dangerous looking as Juba.
Great worldbuilding is weaved throughout this story as well, as Hyrhyn mentions The Spark that lives within each and every person, a will and reason to live. These little comments just pull me all the more into the story, and I love these additions.
The Lostling gets a 5/5 from me. :)
The Broodthrall: The third installment in the Beforetimes series is a very dark and upsetting one. Nix is a forestlander chosen to bear children for the king, but his keeper uses and abuses him for more than just the king’s children. Because Nix looks more like an animal than man, he is treated worse than most, and yet Nix ever keeps an air of pride around him. He does what he does for the safety of his children, and despite knowing he may never see them again, he would do anything to protect them.
We get to see what the king is really like in this installment. He is tired of the war, and is very distracted with thoughts of his son, who is in the care of The Mother—his sister. Things are not as straightforward as they might appear and Nix is extremely put-out by promises made but not kept. The king seems completely unaware of how Nix is treated behind closed doors, and while I love this mystery, I am just as confused and upset by not knowing the full story as Nix is. But Nix is a smart cookie, and he does not let unknowns stop him from going after what he wants.
Juba interacts with one or more of the other three main characters through each story so far, and I love this continuity. I love it no less in The Broodthrall, as Nix and Juba’s interactions together are incredibly interesting considering the rumors and stories surrounding Juba as The Harrower, of which Nix has only heard of, not seen.
The Broodthrall receives 5/5 stars.
The Imperator: The war is over and Laria is at a loss of what to do next. With no king or queen, all titles have become meaningless. There are small, loving additions swept up within this story, as with all the others. A soldier suggests they slay their beasts of burden, as they’re low on food, and Laria considers this an act of great cruelty, as these animals are going extinct and their lives have been used only to carry their armies across the continent. Just that simple line gave me great empathy for Laria and her position: that she still thinks of the world around her, despite her own personal world crumbling at her feet. Despite whatever atrocities she probably committed as the head of the Mother’s Army.
It is a real treat to see from the perspective of the Mother’s Army, because Laria takes so much of her surroundings into account, and that makes her a great leader in my eyes. The memories of her father make her that much more human and real. Her right hand, Bos, makes cute little comments and carves cute little items, and again the mention of the Spark is brought up that pulls me into the worldbuilding. I love this about Boots’ stories.
Laria winds up meeting Hyrhyn, which I should have expected considering the cover, and yet was pleasantly surprised. Their conversation, the beats that settled in the silence, all resound so pleasantly. Boots does not waste words, nor do they mince them, and this is common throughout.
As The Imperator comes to an end, I am unabashedly excited for Book One. While Laria and Hyrhyn do not interact with Juba in this installment, The Harrower still makes an appearance near the end, and Juba is still forever in Hyrhyn’s thoughts. I found this to be an excellent ending to the prequels.
5/5 stars for The Imperator. Excellent, bravo!
Overall, Beforetimes: Afterlands has been a fantastic prequel series that very much entices me to read the full series upon release. I can’t wait to see all four of these characters: Juba, Hyrhyn, Laria, and Nix, interact together as a unit, and how they might discover the world after the war. What is left of the world, after having most of it burnt to a cinder? Will they be able to find peace? Happiness? I’m sure, so long as Hyrhyn is around, that at least one person will be happy. Boots is a fantastic author that I am extremely excited to read more of.
You can read the Beforetimes prequel stories for free on Boots' website, where they offer each story in PDF or EPUB format.
Afterlands is currently on pre-order for release on December 18th, 2021, and you can order it here on Amazon.