Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick
No, she thought. No, please, God, I'm not seeing this.
Seventeen-year-old Alex is hiking through the wilderness when it happens: an earth-shattering electromagnetic pulse that destroys almost everything.
Survivors are divided between those who have developed a superhuman sense and those who have acquired a taste for human flesh. These flesh-hunters stalk the land: hungry, ruthless and increasingly clever...
Alex meets Tom, a young army veteran, and Ellie, a lost girl. They will fight together and be torn apart, but Alex must face the most difficult question of all:
In such a vastly changed world, who can you trust?
A story of high-wire tension, gut-wrenching twist, and burgeoning love, Ashes will leave you breathless.
Do you have any idea, how many times I’ve rewritten this review? Edited it, looked it over, fretted over it and basically just wondered, is it enough? Is it good enough? Does this review express my love for this book?
But here it is, after a long wait, enough or not.
What at first drew to me Ashes was Alex, the main character and obviously, the narrator. For some reason, I kept thinking that this was written in first person POV, though it isn’t. That’s probably because of the detailed way we see the world through her eyes. It’s awesome, because it really is as if you were seeing the world literally through Alex’s eyes. That’s the best way I can describe it: we get her exact reactions and thoughts, as if we’re in her head. Some narrations really sound like somebody is narrating them, but in Ashes, it’s just as if Alex is thinking and then reacting to the world around her and we see it the exact moment it happens. I love it.
Now, Alex is a fighter, she’s a survivor. She’s tough and while she cares about others, she’s used to fighting only for herself and for her survival. That, and the fact that she’s had to see the nasty and depressing side of life, makes her good at survivor at the end of the world. She’s all about the survival, how to keep going and never to give in. There are points where we see the complicated mix of her caring about others and just trying to survive - because it’s the end of the world, things are rough. And there’s this rough edge to Alex, despite her age that pops up sometimes. Plus, I love how, after being a tough fighter for some time, we also see that it can be a bad thing.
What I love about Ashes, is that it doesn’t focus on the zombies. In fact, the z-word is noticeably absent from the book. And actually, the zombies in this one aren’t the usual kind of zombies. I adore the way Bick’s done them, but not everyone will necessarily. The first book doesn’t tell you everything about them and I get the feeling there’s a lot more to things than what we find out right now. I think Bick’s really done a good job, considering how many zombie-involving things there are out there. (They are like vampires with that.)
The gore-factor that often makes me dislike zombie books is completely non-existent. I mean, Bick writes all her scenes with a fervid detail, including all the nasty parts, but I can work with that. It doesn’t bother me, like it sometimes does. There was nothing excessive just because. Instead, it makes the threat of the world that used to be so safe, feel truly threatening. The unknown factors around you that Bick describes, she describes so well that when our narrator tells about tension being in the air, you as a reader, also feel that tension.
The book focuses more on the how-on-earth-does-one-survive-and-stay-partly-sane -part of the end of the world. It asks some really practical questions about every day life and while that sounds perhaps a little boring, instead Bick makes it interesting and something that the characters really, truly fight for. And that keeps the tension and fast pace going.
Nothing is sure and even the things they learn, fall apart. I’m sure that this is a factor that is involved in a lot of zombie/end of the world -books, but in Ashes, those are the main things. You’re constantly afraid of a new change. The battles the characters face are more in the manner of inner battles they face, than all-out battles against hordes of zombies.
But don’t worry, there’s plenty of action. But rather rarely against zombies; there’s just as much to be feared in your fellow humans as there is in cannibalized ex-humans. That’s the part that’s personally for me, always the most painful part in zombie/end of the world -scenarios: how humans turn against humans. And while that’s also something that features in Ashes in several parts - as we don’t know who to trust - and it is quite painful, I just adore how Bick’s done it. It’s heartbreaking, but it just makes the book so good. I seriously had to stop reading several times but I came back again and again. The book hooks you.
There are, admittedly, some slow parts that don’t quite fit the book’s pace - the other parts were so fast and tension-filled that the slower parts really stood out. I’m not saying they were bad, but they really stood out.
The writing is excellent. (I feel like I say that a lot.) Like I said before, I really love how deeply we’re in Alex’s head. I adored the way Bick wrote all her action scenes and the emotional ones just gouge at your heartstrings. The action scenes are detailed, but it’s like seeing fast and short glimpses of pictures. The writing flows easily, but it moves the story so fast that when there are really action-filled scenes, it’s as if you’re the one who’s living them.
There are a lot of unsolved things and lovely details in this apocalyptic world. I love everything Bick’s created, the details about how things came to be and well, we just keep learning more. The way Bick writes things about the how, feels like she’s reading them from a text book. Though, when I was reading this at work, the boys had to point out that some things are impossible, but Bick makes you believe everything.
Honestly, the details about the zombies, about the how of the apocalypse, about why some people died and some people didn’t. They’re part of the reason why this book stands out so well. And we just keep learning more and we don’t even know if what we’ve learned is true.
When the ending comes, it comes after some of the slower parts and it’s super fast and surprising. It’s a sucker punch and you don’t really see it coming. At least I don’t think so, because it left me gasping for air. The big puzzle clicks in to place, revealing the big picture and that hooks you. I’m searching for the next book as I’m writing this and I cannot get it fast enough. If you’re reading this book and you like it, you really, really want to get your hands on the next one before you even finish Ashes.
Final thoughts: Ashes doesn’t fall victim to old gimmicks, but stays true to itself. This is a book that is amazing without big fanfare and I think it should be a bestseller all over the world. Ashes represents a book that I wouldn’t necessarily like, but instead I’m very much in love with it and the beauty of Bick’s writing, plotting and just the way she describes some of the things in the book give me chills. The main character Alex is amazing, a girl who doesn’t seem like much, but who’s a strong survival and will not give up. This book will never let you go, so get ready. (You aren’t ready.)
PS. The fact that part of the blog post is black instead of the color it's supposed to be is yet another proof that I suck at this technical side of having a blog.