Review: Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick

Title: Ashes

Author: Ilsa J. Bick

Series: Ashes #1

Publisher: Quercus

Genre: YA Dystopia

Summary (from Goodreads)

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 aquired a taste for human flesh. These flesh-hunters stalk the land: hungry, ruthless and increasingly clever…

Alex meets Tom, a younge 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?

What’s Good About It

There are a lot of reviews on Goodreads that say this book is amazing for the first 250 pages or so, and then it goes dramatically downhill. While I can see what they are saying – and I did take considerably longer to read the second half than the first – I think these people are overlooking a number of merits Ashes has throughout it’s entire length because the story took a turn they didn’t favour.

Without giving away too much of the plot, things happen in the second half of the book that perhaps don’t fit in with the reader’s idea of ‘happy ever after’. And while those things that the reader desires aren’t closed off completely – and with two more books in the pipeline, Ilsa J. Bick has plenty of time to write her way back around to the ending her readership so desires – I think it was very brave of the author to deviate from the comfortable line.

I confess, I didn’t want the drama of the first half to end. Much as certain individuals (again, can’t be too specific or things will be spoiled) irritated the hell out of me, there was a nice, familial tone of ‘things might not be so bad in the post apocalyptic world after all’. But therein lies the problem that Bick so elegantly solved by ripping the nicely constructed setup apart once again – comfortable is boring. If things had carried on as they were doing for another 200 pages, we would have been bored. It’s a zombie apocalypse people! Stuff happens. Bad stuff.

I liked Alex as a character – the whole idea of the brain tumour lends creeping uncertainty and fear to the every day, on top of all the overt flesh eating zombie horror. The aptly named settlement of Rule, with their sinister obsession with young people and survivors, was a realistic vision of what society could become in post apocalyptic days. All the gore, the survival, the illness and death were sometimes painfully real – particularly the bit where a young man bitten by something has his wound go septic and maggot infested. It was a truly grisly set piece that highlighted the fragility of life, even in a place with some structure and semblance of society.

And that’s the key thing about dystopias. You can’t feel too comfortable. There has to be ever present threat of death or at least dismemberment. And I’m not saying that because I’m some sort of sociopath… I know. I’ve double checked.

What’s Not So Good

Despite the aforementioned good points about the midway break in the narrative path, there is something to be said for the fact that the second half isn’t as intense. Perhaps it’s the fact that Rule is safer, or just that I wasn’t as interested in the characters that populated it, but something made the second half drag more than it should have. Which is why this earns a comfortable 4 stars, but can’t go any higher, despite the excellent beginning.

Rating: 4/5

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