Creepiness. Wandering. Healing. Hurt. Deception. The Changed. And much, much more, all in Ilsa J. Bick's spine tingling new young adult novel, Ashes. While it is, at times, formulaic and even a tad predictable, it is on the whole a book that captures your interest from the first Electric Magnetic Pulse and won't let go, even after you close the last cliffhanger page.
Alex has had a lot of tragedy in her life recently, including the deaths of both her parents and the long battle against the monster, otherwise known as the brain tumor slowly taking her life. So she's had it; with a phone call to her guardian aunt, Alex is off into the wilderness to reclaim her life and make decisions for herself. She expects to be alone on her quest, so she's taken aback to run into a grandfather and his granddaughter, though they seem all right. It is while Alex is talking with the grandfather that the world changes; there is a loud noise, everyone falls to the ground, blood pours forth, and very few are alive when the moment passes. The grandfather is dead and Alex finds herself unable to abandon his surly eight year old granddaughter, Ellie, but she believes they can make it to the ranger station and all will be fine. But the truth is, nothing will ever be fine again. And that is just the very tip of the iceberg that is Ashes--there's so much more going on, with so many twists and turns that it would be impossible to summarize it all in this review. The book could actually be divided quite nicely into three segments: Pre-EMP, the Tom/Ellie segment, and the Rule segment, but that would be leaving out how the stories overlap and the progress Alex makes.
Ashes is a zombie-pocalypse, and it's not easy to read. There is gore and plenty of it, in squeamish, stomach churning detail. There are hard life decisions that you wish you could take back immediately, and there is even a touch of romance (but that is very, very secondary to all the terror and strangeness). Things are Not Right, and it's not just because those at puberty and just beyond have turned into flesh eating monsters, while Alex finds herself among the Spared. The town of Rule adds a whole other level of weird to a story that is filled with people leaving, dying, and betraying, and the odd way dogs seem attracted to Alex has got to mean Something. That killer cliffhanger of an ending had me immediately looking online to see when the next installment comes out.
Ashes started just a bit slowly for me, but once it took off, I found myself totally immersed in the dystopian world in which Alex finds herself. I was often reminded of the television show The Walking Dead; there are similarities in the stories and both offer frightening looks at the horror of running for your very life. Of course this genre of books does stretch believability at times, and the story does take an odd turn with Rule. But I'm on board because this one has enough imagination and interesting characters that I'm vested in the outcome. Be forewarned that you'll need a strong stomach for Ashes, but the excitement is worth the adventure.