Ashes is a near-term post-apocalyptic novel in which a massive EMP (electromagnetic pulse) destroys all modern electronics, kills everyone except for the very young and very old, and turns most teens into bloodthirsty, zombie-like creatures. Seventeen-year-old Alex has a massive brain tumor and is hiking on her own, planning to scatter her parents' ashes in a remote part of Michigan. After the pulse, she finds some of the side effects of her tumor gone. She finds herself the protector of a combative young girl named Ellie, and then teams up with Tom, an attractive if mysterious former soldier.
I very much enjoyed the first part of Ashes. The post-apocalyptic elements are set against a rural, survivalist backdrop. Alex and Ellie fight against wild dogs and raging rivers, with little to no food and water. It's quite compelling to watch them, especially as they are still figuring out what's happened to the world. Alex's chemistry with Tom is strong, even as their reluctance to fully open up to one another is believable. And Ellie is believably bratty (especially at first), rather than being a boring, sweet child.
Ashes flagged for me a bit in the second half of the book, though, when Alex ventures out into the wider world (and a creepy small town called Rule). I think that once the initial adrenaline was out of the way, the overall premise started to feel a bit contrived. The pulse manages to take out everyone except kids and the elderly, and also get rid of all modern conveniences in one fell swoop. AND it creates zombies (or close enough), while giving Alex enhanced abilities. It's a lot, and feels perhaps a tad convenient. I know that much of this sense of the contrived is inherent in post-apocalyptic novels (I mean, the whole point is creating a setting that causes society to crumple). But I found myself more reading to find the end result than reading to linger in the world-building.
Once Alex reaches the town of Rule (about which I'll say very little, to avoid spoilers), she feels like a pawn (and a bit like a petulant child, at times). Why go to the trouble of getting rid of most of the adults if you're still going to make the heroine be a pawn of the ones that are left? I don't know. I know it's a bleak, post-apocalyptic novel, but I found the later part of the book even more depressing than one would expect.
I do like Bick's writing style, though. Alex's viewpoint is ever-so-slightly sarcastic, with a black humor that fits her situation. Bick's writing is descriptive and multi-sensory without sacrificing pace. Here are a couple of examples:
"What no one warned her about was that when you had no sense of small at all, a lot of memories fizzled. Like the way the smell of a pine tree conjured a quick brain-snapshot of tinsel and Christmas lights and a glittery angel, or the spice of nutmeg and buttery cinnamon made you flash to a bright kitchen and your mother humming as she pressed pie crust into a glass dish. With no sense of smell, your memories dropped like pennies out of a ripped pocket, until the past was ashes and your parents were blanks: nothing more than the holes in swiss cheese." (Chapter 1)
"Birds. There were birds. Not just a few or a flock, but hundreds and hundreds, thousands. All kinds, all shapes, all sizes. And the birds were everywhere, in the sky above and exploding up from the valley below in a spiraling, screaming funnel cloud. They weren't organized, not following the way a flock does, but smashing into one another, either because there were so many or the pain that had her in its iron grip had them, too." (Chapter 4)
All in all, Ashes is a compelling story, with a strong heroine, and ends on a serious cliffhanger. There are lots of open questions to which I definitely want to know the answers. I look forward reading the next book. Recommended for fans of post-apocalyptic stories and YA paranormal novels. I look forward to hearing what others think about the world of Ashes.
Publisher: Egmont USA (@EgmontUSA)
Publication Date: September 6, 2011
Source of Book: Bought it, read with Kindle App on iPad 2
© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.