Alex hiked into the woods to say good-bye to her dead parents and her personal demons. Now desperate to find out what happened after the pulse crushes her to the ground, Alex meets up with Tom—a young soldier—and Ellie, a girl whose grandfather was killed by the EMP. For this improvised family and the others who are spared, it’s now a question of who can be trusted and who is no longer human. Author Ilsa J. Bick crafts a terrifying and thrilling novel about a world that could be ours at any moment, where those left standing must learn what it means not just to survive, but to live amidst the devastation. (from Goodreads.com)
Ashes is one of those books that arrived without any great fanfare and I didn't know much about. It looked interesting, but until I read Liz from My Favourite Books proclaiming it's awesome on Twitter, I hadn't given it that much thought. Intrigued by such high praise I moved it up my 'tbr' pile and as soon as I started I could see what she meant. I was hooked right away.
What sets Ashes apart from the many dystopian novels about at the minute is how it's not set in some time in the future, it's right here and now and the threat is very real. Alex is going about her life, in a somewhat state of despair, when pow. It all changes. As said in the blurb, this world really could be ours at any moment and the book drives home how precarious life is.
Ilsa J Bick portrays a stark and brave account of survival. Alex is in a position where she believes her life is pretty much over already, yet still the instinct to survive kicks in and she's a fantastically sympathetic heroine. I love how Bick makes her strong, determined, resourceful and compassionate character, yet still has flaws. She isn't always likable, but she is always real and you're able to understand her easily. Sometimes she comes across as harsh, particularly in the beginning with eight year old Ellie, but this just gives her an honesty and humanness. I'm sure under the circumstances I'd be pretty irritated at times too.
I adored the relationship between Alex, Ellie and Tom and how together they made a unit. If i had one complaint about the book it would be that I'd have liked to have seen more development of it. There seemed to be a big jump of several weeks at one point which may have affected the intensity of Alex and Tom's bond a little for me, but that is just a minor complaint.
Ashes is an edge of your seat horror, with threats around every corner for it's main characters. People were either spared, killed or changed in the electromagnetic pulse, and those who changed now want to eat those who survived. I've never really found zombies believable before, but Ilsa J Bick makes them so. They're like feral, wild animals rather than lumbering brainless lumps of dead meat. Terrifying. But even more frightening is that the other threat comes from those who survive, as it becomes every person for themselves. I also thought the society of Rule, were Alex finds refuge from the outside world, was genius and sinister. There really is so many dynamics to this story it's a roller coaster from beginning to end.
Not everything is explained in Ashes, in fact I'd say it throws up more questions than answers and leaves on a huge cliffhanger that left me desperate for the next book in the trilogy. This is one I'll certainly be following, there is so much more to discover and I can't wait to see what happens for Alex next.
Published by Quercus UK September 2011
Thanks to publishers for providing a copy for review.