Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick is a real genre-bender. Some parts apocalyptic, then post-apocalyptic and also dystopian. Most of all though, I thought the entire book was written in a way that could please the most die-hard horror fans. Oh, and did I forget to mention that the book is REALLY STINKING AWESOME?
I was actually really impressed by the horror part of things. I have never read a YA novel that managed to capture a legit Stephen King-like vibe so successfully. One of the defining characteristics of horror (if you ask me) is the grossness factor. Very intense, gruesome and descriptive grossness. This book has that in spades, what with fleshy windpipes flapping in the wind and scenes with ropes of intestines being sucked up like candy.
Alex is on a trek out in the wilderness, and is hauling around enough baggage for about fifty people along with her camping supplies. Then an apocalyptic-worthy electromagnetic pulse wipes out all electronics, a lot of brains and just generally does its best to end the world. You know, the usual. I was very impressed by the scientific efforts Ilsa Bick put into this, because by the time it was done being theorized and discussed by the characters – it seemed totally legit and enormously frightening.
Alex ends up saddled with an eight year old (keep in mind: by nature, eight-year-olds are built to be annoying and as worthless as possible in survivalist situations). Then they run across army vet Tom and a rag-tag family is born. Of course, since this isn’t a happy, roast-your-marshmallows-and-sing-bonding-songs camping story, things don’t really go too well. No one is safe and anything is possible – Ilsa Bick isn’t interested in pulling punches. Never assume your favorite character is exempt.
The story has a lot of twists and turns, and just when you think things are settling in – you’ll get slapped in the face. That’s a promise. There was a second toward the end (deep in the heart of a creepy dystopian society) when I thought “Alex? Have you given up? Are you just going to settle and not fight?” and then came the slap. I should have had more faith! Never a dull moment y’all, so don’t let down your guard.
The writing, the story, the characters – everything about this novel is stellar. I have that “I-want-to-take-this-book-everywhere-and-never-let-it-out-of-my-sight-because-it-is-my-preciousssss” book high (what? you don’t have those?). The only thing bringing me down is the truly horrendous cliffhanger and the fact that the next book won’t be out until late 2012. (Oh, and Lord save me from the love triangle I see coming…)
Anyway…I leave you with a passage from the beginning that I loved:
“What no one warned her about was that when you had no sense of smell at all, a lot of memories fizzled. Like the way the smell of a pine tree conjured a quick brain-snapshot of tinsel and Christmas lights and a glittery angel, or the spice of nutmeg and buttery cinnamon made you flash to a bright kitchen and your mother humming as she pressed pie crust into a glass dish. With no sense of smell, your memories dropped like pennies out of a ripped pocket, until the past was ashes and your parents were blanks: nothing more than the holes in Swiss cheese.” (ARC page 21)