Wednesday 9 November 2011

Review: Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick

Ashes (Ashes Trilogy #1)Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Alex has run away and is hiking through the wilderness with her dead parents' ashes, about to say goodbye to the life she no longer wants to live. But then the world suddenly changes. An electromagnetic pulse sweeps through the sky zapping every electronic device and killing the vast majority of adults. For those spared, it's a question of who can be trusted and who has changed... Everyone still alive has turned - some for the better (those who acquired a superhuman sense) while others for the worse (those who acquired a taste for human flesh). Desperate to find out what happened and to avoid the zombies that are on the hunt, Alex meets up with Tom - an Army veteran who escaped one war only to find something worse at home - 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 find food, shelter, while fighting off the 'Changed' and those desperate to stay alive. A tense and involving adventure with shocks and sudden plot twists that will keep teen and adult readers gripped.

I really loved this story- which was at times dark and disturbing, but also a powerful and positive portrayal of humanity banding together to survive against bad odds. What I love about dystopian novels is their ability to throw all societal conventions and laws out the window, to make anything possible, and to show us the real gritty side of the way people behave when the world as we know it is changed beyond recognition. Everything becomes a real struggle just to survive, and we see people behaving at their worst and most selfish, but also those people who will band together and work together to stay alive- sharing limited food and risking their lives for people who had been strangers days before. This book has all of this and more in spades.

The story centres on 17-year-old Alex and the people she meets and loses along the way. At the start of the book she is a desperate teenager dying of a brain tumour and too depressed to be around people. She has decided to hike up her favourite mountain with her parent's ashes, as a final attempt to reclaim the freedom that she has lost in her life and say goodbye to her parents. Out in the wilderness out of nowhere the sky suddenly turns purple, there is an ear-splitting sound and the birds start falling from the sky. The sudden and unexplained Electromagnetic pulse destroys all the technology, kills most of the population outright, and, as Alex soon discovers changes most of the younger members of the population unrecognisably into savage creatures. Those that have survived will do anything to stay alive and keep the new threat in the woods at bay.

The plot is original and well-paced and takes us from an isolated mountain wilderness back to the mean streets of a society battling to survive, and finally to a new guarded village where a few residents have taken complete control and think that they have the answer to the way to survive. Alex herself is tough and resourceful, but also tender and patient when she is saddled with an angry and stubborn 8 year old with issues. She is fiercely loyal to the new friends she makes on her journey back down the mountain. I love the way that despite her stubborn independence she is also very vulnerable, and when she and Ellie find ex-army guy Tom, she is happy to have some of the responsibility off her shoulders. Tom was another of my favourite characters- just someone who is completely kind and selfless. I loved the way this little makeshift family banded together.

This book is very clever and really moving- turning from a story of loss and wilderness survival into a struggle against both zombies and the darker side of human nature. It is at times horrific and gory but still brilliant in it's portrayal of the main characters, who like the focal survivors in a disaster movie you can't help but identify with and root for. Alex was a wonderful lead character who was the right mix of feisty and vulnerable, and has to learn to trust the people she is thrown together with. The second half of the story changes in tone from a desperate escape into trying to accept a new way of life in the village and Alex must use her own resourcefulness to do what she feels is the right thing. The whole book is full of dramatic twists and turns, action and drama. The story left my nerves on edge and the explosive cliff-hanger ending has left me desperate for the next installment of this series.

Thanks to Egmont Publishers and for the advance e-copy of this book.


Book 2 in the series Shadows is due to be published late 2012. I already can't wait!

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