Original review can be found here: http://www.yourentertainmentcorner.com/?p=28128.
This is not your typical post-apocalyptic YA novel. There are no zombies; instead, there are cannibals called the Changed. And yes, these are much scarier because they are intelligent, retain some of their former humanity and move like supernatural beings. With that said, I’m pleased Bick gives us Alex, a heroine with some gumption. She isn’t the trip-over-my-feet-and-scream-for-help type. Thanks to a pesky brain tumor, Alex feels her time may be limited. Since she has nothing to lose, she finally decides to take control of her future and fights for her life. In fact, time is its own character; not just a shadow lurking in the background waiting to run out at any moment. Alex’s final conversation with her Aunt Hannah foreshadows this notion. Alex says her aunt has “time” and I find it intriguing that time (the lack or longevity thereof) is a paramount theme throughout the novel. The Spared (those kids and teens not affected by the EMP—electromagnetic pulse) may have a limited amount of time before they possibly become one of the Changed. The other characters in the novel, various older adults who survived the Zap (what Alex labels the EMP incident), weigh time differently since time is already at a minimum for them.
Ashes is told in the third person but mainly focuses on Alex and how she survives this strange new world. She runs into survivors—some good, most bad—and forms relationships that move the story along. Be sure to read slowly and take notes as there are relevant clues and tidbits scattered throughout Ashes that will help in figuring out what the author may have in mind for the characters in this novel.
What I like about Ashes is the characters, the pragmatism of the post-apocalyptic world Bick has created, and the underlying theme of hope in the most dire of circumstances. The cause and effect of the EMP on people is explained over the course of the novel. It seems realistic and actually, all of the events surrounding the attack on the country and the result don’t seem too far-fetched. Reading about Alex—a smart, strong, and capable teen—adds to the plausibility of the story and her part in it.
There is tons of suspense. It could be a bit overwhelming at times, but I like not knowing what will happen from one minute to the next and that things don’t always go as planned. It’s an aspect that adds to the reality of the situation. Too many things go from bad to worse in the blink of an eye.
The love triangle—Tom/Alex/Chris. Not only is it complicated and awkward, I almost don’t know how to feel about the change in the plot. (I love Tom and Alex’s dynamic. Although, they aren’t head-over-heels for one another, there is something there and I want to know what can come of it.) This, of course, comes with the introduction of a new set of characters in the middle of the book, where the story goes off on a tangent. Alex is no longer the girl we met in the first half; she becomes complacent and stagnant, and her mind drifts from her previous goal of finding Tom and Ellie again. This is the point where I yearned for something to happen to get the story back on track. I’m sorry to say it doesn’t and the book ends with a somewhat predictable cliffhanger. (Remember I said to take notes. They come in handy here.)
I’m not sure what role Ellie was supposed to play in this tale but I grew to like her presence and seeing the dynamic she brings to the story for Alex and Tom. Considering we don’t know much about Tom’s background, his insistence on keeping both Alex and Ellie safe is heartwarming. I’m dying to learn what happened to him in Afghanistan that he’s so hell bent on being a savior for the girls. While they aren’t damsels in distress (Ellie makes it known she doesn’t need anyone often enough), they need Tom almost as much as he needs them.
Mina, the dog, acts oddly toward Alex upon first meeting her before the Zap. After, their relationship changes and we’re not exactly sure why. It’s an intriguing aspect to what’s happened to Alex that readers may want to hang onto for the future. I’m most curious about an explanation regarding the effect the EMP has had on people and what it means for their existence in a world as unpredictable as the weather.
With a little over 450 pages under its belt, Ashes is a long read, but you can get through it in a matter of hours. You’ll get caught up in the story—at least I did—and forget how long it is. Then again, those pages can seem ominous as you inch closer to the ending with no clear resolution in sight of the various problems that have popped up. This is the first in a series so be prepared to want to throw things and be frustrated. I hated the ending because the story takes a turn for the unusual and I had so many questions about what was going on and how Alex would make her way out of her precarious situation. As there are no clear cut solutions to any of the issues that spring up I’ll continue reading the series with an open mind. (Having already read Shadows, the second book in the trilogy, I know readers may have to hold out until the final installment to really get the big picture.)
I enjoyed Ashes and recommend it for anyone looking for a different take on the survival of human beings after a major disaster. The first half of the book is infinitely better than the second, but don’t let that deter you from reading. I’m sure Bick has a point to where she’s leading her readers and I can’t wait to find out what that is.