Friday, August 31, 2012

Nothing but Shadows

I read a lot of series. Not by design, but I get a book, I like it, and lo and behold I come to the end and, surprise-it’s a series. The past couple of months I’ve reached the end of a couple of fun series, The Parasol Protectorate being one, and have been lucky enough to also land the ARC’s of many sequels in my series repertoire. I love getting sequels, but as I have stated before there is a certain on edge feeling that goes with them. Namely, you ask yourself “is this book going to make or break my new favorite series?” (see Curse of the Sequel). That question has unfortunately been answered for one of my most touted new series of 2011.

Ashes by Ilsa Bick was a book I really stood behind in September of 2011. I blogged about it, I tried to put it into hands, both young and old, and with a cliffhanger ending, I genuinely could not wait for the next book. So, when a copy of Shadows, its sequel arrived on my desk I was ecstatic and couldn’t wait to dive in where I had left off. Which is exactly what I did, only it seemed as though I was diving into something wholly unfamiliar, and gruesomely unappealing.

What I loved about Ashes was Bick’s great twist on the post-apocalyptic zombie-esque thriller, her young characters were forced to survive in unimaginable conditions, but somehow they all managed. The addition of the elderly survivors, and a village straight of The Lottery only added to the appeal. The characters were interesting, and the concept of an EMP bombing aftermath was really ingenious. So, how could the sequel be so bad?

Shadows was a choppy mess—over-ambitious in its goal to cover so many narratives and horrifically violent. Basically, it’s like Rob Zombie took over the writing and tried to add as many bloody cannibalistic torture scenes as he could. Let me preface this upcoming rant with this—I am not a prude, or a wimp. I was a teenager who loved horror movies, wrote a twenty-page research paper about the evolution of the slasher film in college, and don’t typically shy away from watching, or reading about violence. That being said, even I have my limits and this book’s gratuitous use of torture, graphic cannibal scenes, and its villainization of, believe it or not, Vietnam Vets, has not only pushed me to the limit, but well past. There is no happiness in this book. I can deal with that. I can deal with bleak, if it’s delivered within the brilliantly written confines of a book like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, but the lengths to which this author goes to instill upon the reader the horrors of this post-apocalyptic world, and the utter lack of humanity presented within these Vietnam Vets, who appear more like Nazi doctors experimenting on young survivors for “knowledge”, is just plain sickening. There is no other way to put it and when you add in an uneven narrative, and a flimsy attempt at creating an underlying mystery/suspense plot within the confines of a horror novel, you just get a ghastly mess of a book.

In some ways I could excuse the atrocities of this novel, and just shrug it off as a book that’s “not for me”, except for more thing—this is a book written for teenagers, with the words 14 & up printed on the back, and shelved in the teen/young adult section of your local bookstore. I’ve sold Ashes to teens—young teens, and there is no way I would put Shadows in a young person’s hands. I would even be reluctant to do so in an adult’s hands without a major disclaimer and a lot of working to persuade them not to buy it. I’ve also noticed that this book will be marketed with AMC’s Walking Dead—a brilliant series for fans of the genre, and filled with it’s own horrors, but here’s the difference—reading is highly personal, the images take place in your mind, the words in your voice, it’s all very insular in a way, making it far more real than when you watch something similar in the movies and television. I’m sure many people would argue with me, but what I read in this teen novel far more horrified me than anything I’ve seen in The Walking Dead, 28 Days Later, or even Doomsday—in which there is a scene where someone is literally barbequed on a spit and fed to a roiling mass of punks. This is mostly because the intimacy of the images in my mind while reading far outweighs the actors scripted portrayals onscreen. I can shut the movie off, but it’s hard to do that with my own imagination.

To say I’m disappointed by Shadows would be an understatement. It is one of the most disappointing sequels I’ve ever come across, and definitely the most gratuitously and unapologetically grotesque in it’s display of violence, particularly torture and Veteran behavior. I not only would never recommend this to someone, but I feel as though I need to revoke my earlier approval of it’s predecessor Ashes, which sadly due to it’s cliffhanger style ending can’t stand on it’s own. I love sharing books, and am saddened to see such a promising series go to hell in a hand basket, but Shadows is a book that just needs to go away.

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