After the War is an intriguing idea but never quite pulls off the concept. The story is interesting enough to read, something slightly different in the genre but if there are better alternate universe/fantasy books. I think the story gets caught in its own circular path and forgets to actually show the reader all the little details that are clearly hiding behind the scenes. The writing is engaging though and story easy to read and if readers are looking for a quick novella just slightly out of the ordinary this could satisfy.
The story begins with soldier Diertan wondering where his new life is headed. Diertan is the narrator and he explains that he survived a recent slaughter when gunman Terimath saved him out of the blue. Now the two men are traveling together, sometimes sleeping together, but since Terimath almost never talks, Diertan isn’t sure where they are headed or what they’ll do. Diertan also isn’t sure if he likes Terimath, loves him, or simply needs his help to survive.
Diertan is the third person narrator and the story is entirely from his biased perspective. The POV follows the two men as they travel along the road, sleeping outside, occasionally encountering other people but mostly as Diertan lives inside his head trying to figure out how and what he feels for his companion. Thus the majority of information and storytelling is exposition and internal musing. This isn’t so bad though reader tastes vary and some don’t care for that style. It fits well here except that the story eventually gets too caught up in this endless loop and forgets to give enough details for readers to appreciate.
The setting is an alternate universe/fantasy world where two armies are fighting. Why they are fighting is never told and there is no real way of understanding the two sides, only that Menelat’s side is the “good” one since that is the one both Diertan and Terimath are fighting on. There are numerous names thrown around such as Ammathan, Javrenese, and Cerfexsher, but there is almost no context or descriptive quality to understand these terms. Ammathan is the “bad” side while there is a female earth god worshiped by both sides but I couldn’t get a feel for the world. Is it lush, barren, isolated, populated, warm, cold, colorful, bland, simple, complicated, sophisticated, or alien? There is not enough information and frequently the story feels like a civil war era story just with science fiction names thrown in sometimes.
Likewise the characterization is very lopsided. Since Terimath rarely ever speaks his character is a complete mystery. Diertan spends the duration of the story wondering about Terimath and assigning motives (often false) to Terimath’s actions. Diertan doesn’t know Terimath at all so he can’t convey any knowledge for the reader to know him either. Terimath comes across cold, capable, and empty. He seems to keep Diertan around because he’s handy and an occasional bedmate. Diertan later in the story tries to assign more emotion and depth to Terimath’s actions but it’s too little, too late and feels like a forced justification.
Although these two never come across as deep in love friends, more like casual lovers and thus fitting the no explicit sex, the story is interesting enough to read. The various details offered sparingly keep you wanting more and I was curious to see what would happen to the two men. Nothing really does and the ending is more of a non-ending than anything, the story just kind of peters out, but the journey along the way is pleasant enough to read. This isn’t a memorable story but for a quick read it’s not bad. For those looking for something out of the ordinary among the short novellas from DSP could be satisfied.