Thursday, September 1, 2011

Ashes Ashes We All Fall Down

In Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick, 17-year-old Alex, suffering from both the loss of her parents and the ever encroaching presence of an inoperable “monster” of a brain tumor, is thrown inexplicably into a war beyond the imagination. Power is out, people are dropping dead, the monster in her head feels like it exploded, and teens are turning into crazed cannibals. Is it the zombie apocalypse? No, but it might seem like it at first glance.

Bick takes a highly unoriginal topic and manages to make it fresh and compelling. Alex, an experienced backpacker is on the outskirts of civilization (the Michigan Mountains to be exact) when EMP (electro-magnetic pulse) bombs are set off throughout the world. Teamed up with an 8-year-old girl and young soldier fresh out of Afghanistan, Alex must navigate and learn to understand the changed world. Bick uses her past as a former Air Force Major to pepper the narrative with brilliant survival tips, weapons knowledge, and very believable plot elements. At times I even found myself wondering what I own that could survive an EMP. This is the cleverness of Bick’s story, she takes something very possible and turns it into a gut wrenching saga that involves, of all things, zombie-like teenagers eating their way through the handful of people, mostly elderly, who survived the attack. Instead of an all out bloody zombie battle, we only see them about four times, but with each successive sight they seem to be growing smarter, planning, and working together. This first book, in what is to be a trilogy, is more about what has happened and how people are going to try and survive, as opposed to a “World War Z”. It’s subtle and smooth, transitioning ever so carefully toward the set-up that is to come in the last pages. I do have to warn of a cliffhanger ending that is preceded by a very “Village-esque” scenario seen all to often in films and books like The Passage, or The Forest of Hands andTeeth, but the prior 300 pages are so real, and move so swiftly, that it’s difficult to be annoyed by Bick falling into the clich├ęd pit of post-apocalyptic thrillers.
So, final verdict: Ashes, great premise, infuriating ending (let’s get that next book rolling out soon please), and all around good read for both teens and adults.

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