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Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Just Go Read The Book. You Can Thank Me Later.

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

"Of course, that was then and this was the end of the world" (265).

So, here's the thing: The best zombie apocalypse book I've read to date isn't even really about zombies. I mean, it is. They're definitely there in all their blank-eyed, foot-dragging, gut-slurping glory. It's just that there's so much more to Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick that you kind of forget about the zombies. How to explain this epic novel, the first in what promises to be a most excellent trilogy? Well, it's like dumping all your favorite dystopian stories into a blender, selecting the finest mix-ins (vivid prose, intriguing characters, heartpounding suspense, etc.), hitting puree, and pouring out the perfect blend of dystopian goodness. Yep, that's Ashes.

The story begins in Michigan's Waucamaw Wilderness, where 17-year-old Alex Adair is hiking in the woods. She's toting camping gear, her father's Glock, and a black case that holds all that remains of her parents. The tent and sleeping bag are necessities for the days-long hike to Lake Superior, where she plans to spread the ashes. And the pistol? Well, that's just in case. Just in case she finally finds the guts to blow the cancerous, inoperable tumor out of her head once and for all.

Before Alex has time to make it anywhere near the lake, it happens. An electromagnetic pulse (EMP) lasers the Earth. A flock of birds drops out of the sky, dead. A terrified doe bolts off the edge of a cliff. The kindly, old hiker Alex had just been talking to collapses and doesn't get up. Alex is alive, but ... changed. The haze in her head, a constant reminder of the cancer inside her, is gone, replaced by a weird sense she doesn't understand and can't explain. She doesn't have time to worry about it, either, because the world's gone crazy in the most inexplicable way possible and now she's fighting for her life on a remote mountain in the middle of nowhere. To make matters worse, she's now got 9-year-old Ellie to take care of. And precious few supplies. When they meet up with Tom Eden, a 20-year-old soldier on leave from an assignment in Afghanistan, the makeshift family has to find someplace to hide. The forest is crawling with wolves, coyotes, and something much more sinister. Something that looks human, but isn't. Not by a long shot.

While the trio hides out in the woods, they try to make sense of what's happening in the outside world. Widespread damage, they know that. Millions of deaths, they know that, too. Then there are the teenagers, who didn't die, not exactly, but changed into rabid zombies. Why Alex and Tom were spared they don't know. The hunt for answers takes them out of the mountains, into what was once civilized society. Now, it's more like a war zone. All the rules of safe, normal life have flown out the window. Everything has changed.

Desperate for food, shelter and medical help, Alex heads for the nearest settlement of survivors. No matter how crazy the world's gone, it's human nature to take in the helpless. No matter what she's seen, she has faith in people's innate goodness. No matter what, she has to get help. The heavily-guarded village of Rule offers that, but not without some strings attached. Alex will do anything to keep Ellie and Tom alive - even if it means living by strict, unfathomable laws. But the longer she stays in the town, the more unsettled she grows. Something's very wrong in Rule. Only one question remains: Will she survive longer in Rule or outside of it?

Grrr. My measly summary doesn't even come close to describing Ashes with any kind of accuracy. The book's hard to classify since it's part surival story, part sci fi adventure, part horror story, part psychological thriller, and 100% post-apocalyptic, dystopian awesomeness. Mostly, though, it's the story of a tough, courageous girl finding her will to survive in a world devoid of hope. Tense, taut, riveting, engrossing, unputdownable ... Oh, forget it, I give up - just go read the book.

You can thank me later.

Grade: B+

If this were a movie, it would be rated: R for language (a couple of F-bombs, plus milder invectives), violence and gore

To the FTC, with love: I bought Ashes from Amazon with some of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger. Ha ha.


  1. Just finished this one. And it took me over 100 pages to get into it. The beginning remind me of the book The Road. I had a very disconnected feeling toward the story and characters. Then in came Tom and it got good. If I had not read your review I'm not sure I would have kept going. Glad I did. Thanks!

  2. Ashes sounds amazing! How gory is it?

    My post:


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