Review: Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick



What Publisher: Egmont USA

Where did you get the book: Netgalley Arc

Release Date: Out now







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.
*Blurb taken from Goodreads*



Ashes, I think, has to be one of the darkest and grittiest YA dystopian’s I’ve read this year. In a lot of ways it’s very reminiscent of the Aftertime books by Sophie Littlefield, which has a similar  premise of live zombies and survivors trying to adjust in an apocalyptic world. However, it does have its own take on the zombie theme, tone and feel, which stood out for me.

Alex who is camping in the wilds, is facing an inoperable brain tumour which she nicknames as ‘The monster’, and has been close to taking her own life. But whilst she is coming to terms of her medical condition, a strange event happens which wipes out all electrical products, and Alex later finds out  that the whole world has been engulfed with electric magnetic pulse bombs. She is then left alone with an 8 year old girl whose grandfather died during the pulse bomb. They are then later joined by Tom, an ex soldier, whose friend transformed into a zombie type cannibal after the pulse bomb, and is the only survivor in his group. Together they face a new and horrifying world of live zombies, betrayal and danger.

Ashes is a dark dark book filled with some really chilling and at times gut churning scenes of horror. I didn’t expect it to be this scary since I am not a huge fan of horror but I loved every word.  But for me, one of the best elements of the book is the character of Alex who was such a fantastically well drawn out heroine. I loved how capable, resourceful and determined she was in trying to keep her little ‘family’ of Tom, and Ellie — the eight year old orphan — safe and secure in a scary and tense world.

Desolation and a lack of hope of surviving her brain tumour, which is inoperable, makes Alex contemplate suicide at the beginning of the book. I really loved how she named her tumour the ‘Monster’ which has been eating away at her memories that makes her feel she is losing her sense of self. Yet the events in the book makes her realise that she yearns to cling to life, especially when she realises that the pulse somehow neutralised this affect and has given her extra sensory senses such as scent which helps to warn her against these zombies and people who betray her. But Alex is afraid when she and Tom soon realise that most of the young people and children who did survive the pulse transformed into cannibalistic and violent live zombies and they may turn too.

I really found the  zombie mythos as a great metaphor for a lot of things in this book. I loved how it reflected the inner demons that Alex and Tom has, whilst she has her own personal fear of her tumour diminishing her and breaking her down physically and emotionally. Whilst Tom has to cope with the aftermath of war after a tour of duty and is trying to recover from PTSD, and in an ironic way this may have helped them from not dying or succumbing from the Pulse’s aftereffects.

I also felt the potential and tentative romance that grew between Tom and Alex was great, and it unfolded in a realistic and sweet way. I really liked how they formed an adopted family like dynamic within the first few weeks after the pulse bomb. Especially since the first half of the book  is filled with some tense and suspenseful moments during their search for food and shelter in the woods.

However despite the overall taut pace and tension in the book, I did find that there was several forced and TSTL moments in the beginning of the  book that marred the suspense. I really thought the character of Ellie, the eight year old orphan was very annoying and frustrating. I could understand how she would be mullish and emotional especially since she was also mourning the death of her father and then witnessing the violent death of her grandfather during the pulse blast. Nonetheless I think there was several times the author used Ellie as a plot device to produce tense moments in the book such as ignoring and rebelling against Alex’s advice and acting beyond stupid at times — especially against the only person who could help her in the midst of the wilderness. I really found Ellie to be bratty and unlikable and at times one dimensional, although later on in the book, where she bonds with Alex and Tom, helped to develop her character but not as much as I would like. But I did get frustrated with the forced scenes of danger because it felt like Ellie was  acting out or making stupid mistakes like taking and losing Alex’s gun (their only defense) against a pack of marauding dogs  as a forced way to present suspense and danger.

Ilsa J.Bick’s world-building and basis of this dark world was evocatively played out and I loved how she presented the symbolism that the zombies — who were mostly children and younger adults — illustrated the fear of the chaos that puberty and disobedience could cause. This is shown with the majority of the survivors who are mostly older or elderly people and their fear and hate what kids could bring if they turned definitely brought an interesting and ironic division with the society that is left behind, because the young are needed to help the future.

Ashes is  gritty and ZOMG disgusting at times to read. It really combines the elements of Horror and portrays the zombie subgenre in a wonderfully dark and stark and vivid way. Despite several scenes with Ellie’s TSTL and annoying moments, I loved the tense and atmospheric first half — although the second half kind of lost some momentum and concentrates on a strange religious group which wasn’t as interesting as the first half. Although this part introduced another love interest for Alex, and I am getting a bit weary on the love triangle trope especially in YA but it will be interesting to see how this pans out. However despite the flaws of the book,  I definitely enjoyed the book which has a great heroine and I liked how the Horror elements combined with the dystopian tone which made it refreshing.

I have to warn you that the book ends in a killer cliff-hanger so if you aren’t a fan of them, wait for the next book. For me Ashes was a solid and memorable debut,  and this is how you do dystopian horror YA which doesn’t shy away from scary and explicit scenes of zombies munching on body parts. If you have a strong stomach and like your YA with a taste of horror than you will enjoy Ashes which is a great start to a wickedly chilling series!

I give Ashes a B –

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