It could happen tomorrow...A cataclysmic event. An army of "The Changed."
Can one teen really survive on her own?
An electromagnetic pulse sweeps through the sky, destroying every electronic device and killing billions. For those spared, it's a question of who can be trusted and who is no longer human...
Desperate to find out what happened and to avoid the Changed, Alex meets up with Tom---a young army veteran---and Ellie, a young girl whose grandfather was killed by the electromagnetic pulse.
This improvised family will have to use every ounce of courage they have just to survive.
Ashes is an apocalyptic thriller that almost seems like two different stories in one. In the first half of the book, we're introduced to Alex, a tough teen who's decided that her battle with a terminal brain tumor isn't going to leave her wasted in a hospital bed. Armed with her parents ashes (who died 2 years ago) she hikes into the Michigan woods to eventually cast them into Lake Superior. While on her mission, she runs into Jack and his 8 year old granddaughter, Ellie, and that's when things go terribly wrong. An electromagetic pulse sweeps over the country, killing all electrical devices and most middle aged people along with it. With Jack dead, Alex must keep herself and little Ellie alive while she tries to find help, but aside from all the normal challenges of being alone in the wilderness with a child who seems to be more trouble than she's worth, Alex also has to contend with the zombies. Zombies, you say? Yes, zombies. For some reason which is not entirely explained, most teenagers have been Changed by the EMP and are now cannibals with no brains. I'm not dissing on the story here as it created a creepiness that certainly upped the stakes and left my heart pounding. It felt very much like The Forest of Hands and Teeth, a book that I really loved, and so I found IB's zombies to be right up my alley. I breezed through the first half of the book, excited to see how the story would resolve. But then... things changed.
Alex arrives at a town called Rule, and aptly named, Rule has a lot of rules. And of course Alex doesn't agree with them. But, and here's the kicker, she doesn't DO anything about it. We're given a good 150-200 pages of learning about this town - which is more like a religious cult. We're introduced to about 12 new characters - who I never did get completely straight. Then, there's a bit of romance thrown in, because afterall, what's a zombie book without a little romance? (O.o, I'm getting snarky here). Point being, the second half of the story didn't fit the first half at all. The pacing and the intensity tapers off. Alex, who was a very strong character before, acts passive, and a good portion of the story is spent discussing her feelings about a boy whom we don't really see much of. Most of the danger is just... gone. I waited and waited for something to happen and in the last 30 pages or so it did, but then, BAM! The story was over. The ending was a cliffhanger that was actually quite good, but to get there...
Yeah, so I'm a little torn on my overall feelings about the book. Alex was a good character, tough, with a good head on her shoulders, but sometimes things seemed to come a little too easy for her. Actually the character that I most enjoyed was only there for a short while, and that was Ellie. She's a major pain in the ass when she's first introduced, but by the end she was the one I was most worried about making it through. I don't know, maybe it's the mom in me. The love interests were... meh. I didn't really get a feel for who Chris was at all. I did like Tom though and hope that he plays a bigger role in the sequel. And yes, I do plan to read the sequel. The beginning half of Ashes was exciting enough that I hope the second book starts over like that - and carries through. I guess we'll see.
Before I end this review, I also want to say that I give Ms. Bick a lot of credit for doing her research. The whole thing with the EMP was believable, and I even looked it up after I was done reading. I wasn't surprised to find out that as a catastrophic event, it is quite possible. Certainly I don't think that the entire American government would be non-existent after such a thing as we're told (or made to believe), but I do like the way that Bick tied her world into something that could actually happen. Most of these apocalyptic/dystopian types novels don't fit with anything that is logical, so it was refreshing to read something that was at least semi-grounded in reality. That said, I do NOT know how the zombies fit into all that, but then again, they're zombies. Maybe no more explanation is needed than that. :)
Thanks to NetGalley and Egmont, USA for providing this book for review.