Author: Ilsa J. Bick

Publication: 2012, Egmont

Pages: 496

Overall Rating: bth_45_zps06f87659[1]

Rating for Action: bth_45_zps06f87659[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_35_zps7a173504[1]

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary: Alex is hiking in the mountains, running from her past and the deadly brain tumor that haunts her present, when an electromagnetic pulse flashes across the sky.  In an instant, it wipes out every modern engine and electronic device, disables the safety features on nuclear power plants, and kills billions.  The world that remains is a post-apocalyptic nightmare of food shortages, terrified survivors, and barely human cannibals.  Amid the devastation, Alex finds Tom – a young soldier – and Ellie, an eight year old girl whose grandfather was killed by the EMP.  The three become a surrogate family, but in their new reality survival is a tenuous thing and Alex will have to fight to keep hers alive.

Age of Main Character: 17

What I Liked the Most: Bick takes time setting up the story – letting us into Alex’s head, and making her into a flawed and deeply troubled character with the anger and force of will required to survive in a post-apocalyptic world.  She’s spent the last two years battling cancer, and I found it fascinating to root around inside the head of a person who’s struggling to keep her new family alive while simultaneously believing she has very little time left to live. It gave Ashes a unique edge.

Bick also makes some clever choices in playing out the effects of the EMP, having the pulse affect not just electronic devices but human brains – which after all use electrical pulses to send signals between the neurons.  It kills the majority of people but spares both the elderly and the very young, along with a handful of teenagers suffering from depression or other brain related disabilities, while turning most teens into barely human cannibals.  That creates an interesting and unusual set of survivors.  It also means Alex has to contend not just with a lot of seriously damaged kids, but with a group of terrified seniors who think anyone under the age of 65 presents a direct threat to their future.  Fascinating.

What I Liked the Least: I had two fairly minor complaints, neither of which did a lot to blunt my enjoyment of the book.  First, the young soldier, Tom, seemed a bit too competent for his own good.  What are the chances of living through an apocalypse only to have one of the first survivors you run into be an incredibly kind soldier with extreme survival skills and an in-depth knowledge of mechanics and explosives?  It all felt a little too handy.

Second, after losing all of her gear twice over, getting shot at, attacked by wild dogs, separated from Tom and Ellie, and almost being eaten, Alex finally reaches a town of survivors.  She arrives there with a hard earned understanding of just how terrible their new world can be.  And yet, her reaction to many of the harsher rules imposed by the town felt overly naive,  as if they were coming from someone with no real experience of the post-apocalyptic reality beyond the town’s borders.  Her ongoing desire to escape was never fully explained, and didn’t make much sense given her experience.

How Good was the Action? Bick has a knack for generating tense, fast-paced, adrenaline fueled-action sequences.  You can feel the fear, the crackle of energy with each rapid-fire chase and fight.  Whether Alex is battling wild dogs, running for her life, or engaged in a vicious tooth and nail fight with a group of cannibals where the stakes are her very life, it’s impossible not to feel the charge.  This is some top-notch action.

How Engaging was the Story?  Like I said, Alex is a fascinating character – a girl with a deeply troubled past, a girl who’s spent much of the last two years battling a brain tumor that’s only getting worse, and a girl who in some very profound ways found a new lease on life following the apocalypse.  Bick truly throws us inside her head and brings Alex’s world roaring to life.  Combine that with a somewhat unique take on the post-apocalyptic scenario and you’ve got a powerful story that grabs on and won’t let go.

Overall Assessment: A terrifying and sometimes bloody peek into the aftermath of an electromagnetic pulse.  A broken world of kids and senior citizens struggling to survive in the face of famine, roving gangs, and cannibals.  Filled with a rich array of characters, Bick’s story provides a fascinating and horrific narrative of self-sacrifice, balanced against the depravity all too many people are willing to embrace in order to survive.

Profanity: Minimal to none.

Sex: A bit of kissing.  Not a lot, and there’s nothing more graphic than that.

Violence: Yes.  This is a pretty gory book.  There are some graphic fights with people getting shot, stabbed, and bitten.  But worse than that are the descriptions of the various human remains Alex comes across in her travels.  There are a lot of dead bodies out there, and Bick doesn’t shy away from describing them in bloody and graphic detail.

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