Ashes, by Ilsa J Bick

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Publication date – September 6, 2011

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) 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.

Thoughts: Alex, a teen girl dying of a tennis-ball-sized tumour in her brain, decides to take more of her life into her own hands when she runs off to deliver her parents’ ashes to their final resting place. In the middle of the woods, she runs into an old man and his granddaughter Ellie. And from there, things all go to hell when a splitting pain cuts through Alex’s head, animals go frantic and mad enough to suicide, and the old man drops dead at their feet.

As if that alone wouldn’t scare the bejeezus out of a person, as Alex and Ellie travel through the woods, trying to find their way to help, they come across people gone insane, violent and cannibalistic, and to Alex’s new superpowered sense of smell, with the scent of rotting meat and death all around them.

Welcome to the world of Ilsa J Bick’s Ashes.

Bick has proven in her previous books that she has a flair for disturbing imagery, which suits a post-crisis zombie outbreak perfectly. With the first half of the book consisting essentially of survivalist fiction as Alex and company try to survive in the woods while avoiding the deranged zombie-like people, we get to see Alex struggle to accept the changes that she can sense in herself, but also to see very clearly just how the world has very quickly changed. Electronics, with the exception of old items, are no longer functional, hampering communication, travel, security, even the ability for most watches to be able to keep time. Any people that they run into who haven’t been changed into cannibals are, in their way, just as dangerous, all out for themselves as they too fight for survival and any shred or normalcy that they can cling to. Like most good zombie stories, the zombies are more of a catalyst for humanity’s darker side to show than they are the true enemies of the story, and this is no exception. A good amout of the first half of the novel feels very much like 28 Days Later.

The second half of the book is chilling in a far more subtle way. After being seperated from her other companions in various ways, Alex finds herself in the rather secure town of Rule, which has adapted very quickly to the new problems that the world is now facing. A fairly secure perimetre has been set up, people are tasked to do whatever they’re best at so that all hands who can help do help. The only problem is that nobody’s allowed to leave, and that most of the townspeople seem to think that it’s their solemn duty to repopulate the world once more…

Bick certainly knows how to tell a story that will leave you shaken. Disturbing and insightful, this YA novel is one that can appeal even to those who tend not to enjoy stories about zombies, as evidenced by the fact that I read it and really liked it (and I normally can’t stand zombies; they scare the whey out of me!). I highly recommend reading this if you are a fan of zombies fiction, or a fan of post-apocalytpic YA tales. This is a book that does not disappoint.

(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)

One comment on “Ashes, by Ilsa J Bick

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