Book Review: Afterglow, by Tim Jordan

Today, I’m lucky to be reviewing the sequel to one of my favourite books of last year. Tim Jordan’s Glow blew me away with its high concept, high octane vision of an Earth ravaged by the nano-drug of the title. Can sequel Afterglow repeat the trick? Read on to find out!

Warning – whilst I’ve avoided spoilers for Afterglow, some mild spoilers for Glow are perhaps inevitable. There’s little here that wouldn’t be spoiled by reading Afterglow’s blurb, but it’s something to be aware of if you’re planning on reading the first book.

This fair and unbiased review was conducted based on an uncorrected electronic copy of the book, which I received from the publisher through NetGalley.

From the Waterstones website:

Glow is not gone. Glow remains. Glow is alive. The nanotech drug is now everywhere. It creeps across the world, a mind-bending plague, a brain-altering poison that lives on from host to host, twisting everyone to its will. Still recovering from his addiction, Rex remains in hiding, battling the voices in his head that are not all his own. Some days are peaceful, others are downright terrifying. But there are bigger problems to face – a new alliance threatens the balance of power in the world again, and a dangerous enemy from Rex’s past tracks him down. Can Rex really be the cure for the plague that the Sisters promised him, or the root of humanity’s downfall? Faced with ultimate destruction, Rex must decide if he really is a prophet… or just a coward?

Picking up right where Glow left off, we find unlikely hero Rex living with figures from one of his many past lives, the memories imparted to him from the pernicious drug fostering a feeling of love and loyalty within him towards them. Meanwhile, new character Keller is making a deal with a scrap merchant for the remains of something which – had he any inkling into its origins – he would be leaving well alone. But Keller is keen to acquire any salvageable tech in the hope that he can upgrade partner Casima’s many cybernetic parts, so it’s out of love and desperation that he takes ownership of the ravaged black torso topped with a leering crystal skull. On his trail  comes the mysterious Steelos, a Burn – a cybernetically enhanced human soldier, capable of being reincarnated into a new body by Convolver leader Knoss. Fellow Burn Jorben, meanwhile, has his own traumas to work through, haunted by a past that he fears he’s doomed to repeat.

In short, if you thought for one second that Afterglow might not be as ambitious as Glow, I’m here to tell you – with no small amount of joy – that you’re dead wrong. With conspiracies within conspiracies, shady alliances, a host of new and returning characters with their own motivations and more high tech hijinks than ever, Afterglow hits the ground running and doesn’t stop until the final page. The relentless pace of the action scenes makes them breathlessly exciting, with one section in particular roughly two thirds in being probably one of my favourite action sequences ever. I defy anyone to read chapter 51 onwards and not feel a rush of adrenaline. Voidians don’t do all the heavy lifting in this department this time around either, the aforementioned Burns being more than capable of taking on multiple opponents. Solo, they’re terrifying, but in a squad they’re virtually unstoppable, their inbuilt “detent” occasionally flipping them into a berserk state; no doubt harrowing for all around them, but exhilarating for us.

Casima and Keller form much of the emotional core to the tale, their relationship easy to accept and get invested in. Keller suffers with a form of PTSD, which occasionally causes him to freeze up in stressful situations (which, like every character, he goes through plenty of – Jordan does like to put his players through the wringer). Casima, meanwhile, is struggling to keep herself together in the more literal sense, as her cybernetic parts degrade and her organs struggle to cope. Their actions are pragmatic even whilst being governed by their love for one another, which makes their relationship feel believable and positively refreshing compared to the blinkered decision making that often goes along with other fictional relationships. Casima, it has to be said, is a particularly brilliant addition, a likeable and resourceful badass who absolutely refuses to go down without a fight. As an added bonus, returning central character Rex also feels easier to understand now, his train of thought not so much derailed this time around as occasionally finding itself on a different track thanks to his rather unique headspace.

Put simply, Afterglow is everything you could possibly want from a sequel. Jordan takes everything that was great about Glow and expands upon it confidently, resulting in a story that’s well-paced, gripping and exciting. Cool, slick and stylish, this is another thrilling slice of scintillating cyberpunk.

Afterglow is out today, published by Angry Robot. You can pick up your own copy in the electronic, DRM-free format of your choice here.

Currently reading: Inhibitor Phase, Alastair Reynolds
Currently listening: A Call to Arms, Jungle Rot

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