Horizon by Sophie Littlefield
Cass Dollar is a survivor. She's overcome the meltdown of civilization, humans turned mindless cannibals, and the many evils of man.
But from beneath the devastated California landscape emerges a tendril of hope. A mysterious traveler arrives at New Eden with knowledge of a passageway North—a final escape from the increasingly cunning Beaters. Clutching this dream, Cass and many others decamp and follow him into the unknown.
Journeying down valleys and over barren hills, Cass remains torn between two men. One—her beloved Smoke—is not so innocent as he once was. The other keeps a primal hold on her that feels like Fate itself. And beneath it all, Cass must confront the worst of what's inside her—dark memories from when she was a Beater herself. But she, and all of the other survivors, will fight to the death for the promise of a new horizon….
Everything about Cass's life revolves around surviving, be it from the men who preyed on her as a child, or the fall of civilization that brought on the beaters, or even another moment of sobriety. Things should have become easier despite the conditions of Aftertime now that she has found a seemingly safe haven from the Beaters. Only it isn't. The beaters have started to evolve and are no longer the mindless beings they once were. Their only hope lies a group of travelers that promise safety in a settlement too far north for the beaters to survive in the cold. However, even that seems like a pipe dream. As she continues to struggle with her addictions, she is also torn between two men who have come to mean almost everything to her. Even so, all those horrors are nothing compared to the inner torment she lives with everyday. She will have to fight tooth and nail to find the much needed chance at life for her and her daughter, even if it means sacrificing it all.
In so many books the heroine makes a miraculous change for the better and never looks back, but that is not Cass. To be honest, that type of turnaround would have severely cheapened the story, and I am so glad Sophie Littlefield continued to avoid tinting things with rose colored glasses. Being an addict, life will never come easy to Cass, she will always have that constant inner struggle no matter how long she stays sober. It is only as she starts to find self-worth and forgiveness that she starts to choose sobriety for herself rather than for anyone else, that she finally starts to win her struggle. There will still be times that she falls off the bandwagon, and fall she does in Horizon. Yet it watching that struggle and fight for every precious forward moment gained that really makes it all hit home.
There is an outward appearance of a love triangle, yet it wasn't really about romance, but more of a journey towards Cass finding herself. This isn't your typical story of angst and constant debate over two men. After the way Cass reacted to finding Smoke I had thought things would have ended between her and Dor, and yet there is still a strong connection, almost compulsion that pulls her to him. It almost seems as if he is he drug, and considering her addiction problems, you can only imagine just how strong of a force that is. She is utterly torn between them, but at the root the struggle is more about accepting herself and what she needs. Her sense of obligation to the man who first gave her love, as well as social acceptance keeps her torn from the man who she truly burns for, even if it is only a raw and bare boned infatuation.
Horizon was not what I was expecting, but it was exactly what I needed. I had thought I wanted to see a perfect happy ever after for these characters that have suffered so much, but I was so wrong. I may feel like I was put in a blender under the puree setting, but that made everything so much more real to me in the end. It is the depth of raw emotion that makes this series, and this installment most of all, so compelling. I literally was on the edge of the seat the entire time, and my fingernails are going to take a very long time to recover from the damage. It would have been so easy for the story to have gone another way with things somehow getting miraculously fixed and tied up neatly with a bow, yet Sophie Littlefield stayed true to the story and characters by giving them an ending that showed hope, but with absolutely no guarantees. Nothing else would fit for Aftertime. So I cannot thank Ms. Littlefield enough for giving this story that I know will stick with me for a very long time.
(Received a copy from Netgalley)
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