Book Review: Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick
A cataclysmic event. An army of “The Changed.”
Can one teen really survive on her own?
An electromagnetic pulse sweeps through the sky, destroying every electronic device and killing billions. For those spared, it’s a question of who can be trusted and who is no longer human…
Desperate to find out what happened and to avoid the Changed, Alex meets up with Tom—a young army veteran—and Ellie, a young girl whose grandfather was killed by the electromagnetic pulse.
This improvised family will have to use every ounce of courage they have just to survive.
Ashes is one of the most gruesome books I have ever read. I should preface this review by saying that I am not a horror fan. Zombies are not my thing. And I wavered for quite a while on whether I was actually enjoying this book. I’m sure my face was a picture on the train while reading this. I kept squeaking and cringing — particularly in the first few chapters *shudder*.
There are quite a few reviews out there saying the first half of Ashes is fantastic, and then it all goes to pot in the second half, it’s like reading a totally different book. Well I agree, the first half is fantastic. Ilsa Bick’s writing is excellent but brutal and she holds nothing back. For those who love gore, Ashes won’t disappoint. The action starts almost immediately and I was quickly drawn in and intrigued to know just what the hell was going on!?
I could appreciate as I read Ashes, that it was an extremely well-written story with strongly developed characters, a great plot and a narration that flows well, which is why I have given it a high rating. But I did take a week or so to read it, and that is unusual for me. In the end, I can say I really quite liked it and I’m anxious to find out what happens next, but it didn’t completely capture me. Perhaps that is simply down to the genre.
I couldn’t tell you why, but I didn’t really connect with any of the characters. Which is probably why I didn’t dislike the second half of the book as others did. Two of the main characters disappear from the pages, and while I can see this would be frustrating for a lot of readers, I was content to simply see where Bick took the story and found the cult-like environment Alex find herself in to be just as well-written and fascinating as the first half of the story. It’s an intriguing glimpse into human nature and the choices people make in order to survive, and it certainly led to one of the best cliffhangers I’ve read.
If I had two issues with the second part of Ashes it would be the change in Alex. Previously she was a fighter, intelligent and capable alone in the wild with a difficult moody child to look out for and crazed murdering zombies on her trail. Alex, put simply, is bloody stubborn and I liked that about her. She doesn’t give up, not when doctors tell her the tumour in her head will kill her, not when the whole world falls apart around her. To watch her become so passive, to just give up on Ellie and Tom, to do exactly what these controlling, religious people (with questionable motives) want her to do, regardless of what she really wants, is maddening! It’s perfectly obvious why all the young girls are kept ‘safe’, unable to leave the town if they want to, stuck doing mundane tasks out the way of any possible danger and why it took Alex so long to figure it out was beyond me. Why it didn’t make her angry, like Lena, and push her to leave I don’t understand.
I also wasn’t enamored with Chris and whatever was going on between him and Alex. It felt forced to me and was slightly confusing, and most of all, it was clear that it was exactly what certain people in the town were trying to influence and that alone made me dig my heels in and hope she wouldn’t feel a damn thing for him. But I can (grudgingly) see why Bick has chosen to go down this direction and I’m sure it will make for a far more interesting story. It’s not exactly the dreaded love-triangle, but I foresee angst people.
Rest assured that romance only forms a small part of Ashes. Bick focuses instead on action and world-building. I loved how the explanations came from a scientific angle. I also liked that we aren’t actually dealing with the walking dead, but a different, far more disturbing, and unique, take on zombies. I’m certain Bick will throw a few more loops our way before this series is up, and though I still have so many questions, such as who is responsible? Why now? Why are only certain people developing new abilities? Can the ‘Changed’ be reversed? Can Alex save little Ellie? And many more besides, but I wasn’t left irritated by a lack of information. We learn a lot through the course of the story as more and more things (seemingly) start to slot into place.
Ultimately, Ashes is a book I started off being unsure on, progressed to being freaked out by (and left feeling vaguely sick by after reading certainly passages), that eventually won me over. Even though Ashes is probably just about the only book of this particular genre I have read (like I said — zombies, gore, so not my thing) I think I will be back for more. I’m more than eager to find out what happens next.
*Many thanks to Egmont USA and NetGalley for making Ashes available for review*