There’s a challenge in books and movies that I like to call the Best-Poem-in-the-World Problem. Many works of fiction are about someone who is very skilled at what they do. If your hero is supposed to be a mighty warrior, a book can describe her skill or your movie can use martial arts choreography and wire work to show her defeating dozens of enemies. But if a character is supposed to be really at writing songs or poems, you have the problem of how you show that. It’s the problem that Tenacious D so delightfully tease in their song Tribute (The Best Song in the World). (“This is not The Greatest Song in the World, no./This is just a tribute.”) Sometimes we see a few lines of a poem; sometimes other characters just describe how great it is.
Afterworlds is about an 18-year-old author, Darcy Patel, whose NaNoWriMo novel got picked up by a publisher for a fair amount of money, and now she has moved to New York in order to do the required re-writes. Now, to be fair, the book doesn’t say that Darcy’s novel is the best-in-the-world, but it’s definitely portrayed as being good enough to get the contract and is complimented several times. And instead of giving us excerpts from the book, in alternating chapters we get Darcy’s entire book.
And yes, both books are really good.
The novel Darcy has written is a supernatural romance, between two psychopomps. (Two whats? Two ‘guides of the dead’.) It was surprisingly dark and affecting. And Darcy’s story was also surprising. She faces challenges both in her writing and in romance. The structure of the book allows Westerfeld to comment on both his book-within-a-book, and on the nature of writing and stories in general. Straight up, I loved it. Them? It.
FuzzyCo grade: A+