Thursday, September 29, 2011

Review: Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick

What You Need To Know:  This is a solid entry in the post-apocalyptic/zombie genre that suffers from a last minute plot twist.

Summary:  Alex is dying.  The monster in her brain, an inoperable tumor, has stubbornly refused treatment.  Rather than continue, Alex has taken the ashes of her parents to the mountains where they used to camp.  She intends to say goodbye and face her own mortality.

However, something happens, and most die instantly.  Alex survives, as does Ellie, a bratty young girl camping with her grandpa.  Alone in the woods, Alex and Ellie soon discover that they aren't the only survivors.  Other teens live also, but they have transformed into animalistic cannibals.

It's up to Alex to protect Ellie, and she is aided in this by Tom, a young veteran who also survived.  Now, the three must decide what to do next...

What worked:  Bick does a tidy job of introducing her characters.   She establishes Alex's survivalist credentials early and without a lot of fanfare.  Tom appears in the nick of time but still believably.  Ellie feels a bit shoehorned into the story, but not overwhelmingly so.   She also gets things moving quickly, the carnage starts early, without a lot of preliminary set up.  The action sequences in this book are genuinely scary, gory without being gratuitous 

Bick also gets that the best post-apocalyptic fiction isn't really about the apocalypse, but the people who are caught in it.  Alex and Tom spend a good deal of time trying to figure out what happened, but they also are moving on, doing their best to survive.

I'm not a big wilderness survival fan, but Alex and her crew's plans and missteps were engaging and well described.

What didn't:   My biggest problem with this book is that it leaves too many questions unanswered.  Ashes takes a major left turn in its final fourth, completely abandons major characters and plot lines, leaving many questions unanswered.   A great book will leave you asking "what happens next?"  This book simply left me asking "what happened?"   This ploy might get readers to pick up the next volume, but it's incredibly frustrating.

Also, I know all sci-fi requires a suspension of disbelief, but I don't think that the science behind Bick's apocalypse stands up.   Although not an expert, I don't think that an EMP could cause the kind of carnage she describes.  I appreciated her building the latest research on the teen brain into her plot, but, again, it rang false to me.

And, as always, I resented the intrusion of a romance into the plot.  Alex has been preparing herself to die, the world as she knows it has ended, teenagers have turned into cannibals, but she's torn between two boys?  Please.

Who would I give this book to:  The post-apocalyptic trend shows no signs of slowing, and this would be a good choice for teens who enjoy those books.  The survivalist angle would appeal to many boys, and it's gory enough for the zombie fans.  

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