Book Review: Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick

Take elements of Stephen King’s The Stand, Carrie Ryan’s The Forest of Hands and Teeth, and Moira Young’s Blood Red Road, mix in a unique, compelling new voice in YA literature, a new twist on the apocalyptic zombie story, a healthy dose of original characters, and combine … the results will be Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick, a stunning and suspenseful new novel well worth the pre-publication hype it’s been receiving.

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.

What grabbed me first about Ashes was the wonderful narrative; Bick has a gift for writing that is both beautiful and compelling. But it was the unfolding story that really sucked me in. It had a feel very much like King’s The Stand, and being a fan of that book, I was instantly hooked. But Bick takes you on a journey that is a far cry from anything you’ve read, giving a completely new spin to the concept of the zombie apocalypse. She draws on the finest elements of horror, without slipping into the realm of the gratuitous.

And just as you think you have an idea of where this book is going, Bick takes you in a whole other direction — weaving in an unexpected twist about half-way through that changes the entire scope of the novel. At times, the elements added in by this twist seem like a strange addition, and can be difficult to follow, but they all start coming together by the book’s grotesque and stunning last page. Though not advertised prominently, I think you’ll find it helpful knowing that Ashes is not a standalone book –but rather the first in a series ( a trilogy, I believe). So don’t expect everything to be tied up neatly by the end. Though engaging on its own as a novel, in many ways, Ashes is simply setting the stage for what’s to come next.

Besides the compelling narrative and creepy storyline, Ashes is successful on a whole other level with its engaging cast of characters. Alex is a fresh, new voice in YA — with a unique outlook on life that will both frighten and compel readers to understand her better. Alex is by no means a perfect person, yet you understand where she’s coming from and you are there to root her on along the way — especially as she encounters the likes of young Ellie and Tom, the young Army soldier with some dark secrets of his own. This rag-tag group is so lovable that it’s painful, as the reader, to see them torn apart by the events of the book.

If I said anymore, I’m afraid I’d start spoiling the book — and that’s a large part of what makes reading Ashes so enjoyable: is not knowing where it will go next. It’s truly an edge-of-your-seat, twisted story of both horror and hope.

Ashes is in stores now.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick

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  1. The start was a bit slow for me but man, by the end I was totally on board and didn’t want to put it down. I was *not* expecting what happened at the end at all. If there were clues to that I was completely oblivious to them. Kudos to Bick for that. I’m eagerly anticipating the next book to see how things move forward.

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