by Ilsa J. Bick
Egmont USA, 2011
Confession: I’m not really into zombie books. I haven’t read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or World War Z, nor have I had the urge to. That is about to change. ..
Chicagoan and suicidal cancer patient Alex goes camping alone in Michigan to deal with some personal issues and the death of her parents. When an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) rips through the area and beyond, killing the middle aged, sparing the elderly, and changing most children and teens into flesh-eating zombies, Alex, along with former soldier Tom and 8-year-old orphaned camper Ellie, runs for her life, trying to reach civilization while avoiding the “changed.” Despite losing almost everything she has, Alex reaches the aptly named town of Rule, an ultra-religious town/“cult” controlled by a quorum of old men and their families. Alex finds safety, love and even a job in Rule, but she feels trapped, waiting to be offered up as a wife and baby-making machine to dark and moody Chris while Tom and Ellie are out in the world somewhere. When she finds out Rule’s horrific secret, she realizes arranged marriage is the least of her problems. Alex’s journey includes a few fitfully gory scenes, suspenseful brushes with death and, of course, a love triangle. The writing is well paced, and while the book is split into formal parts, the narrative naturally breaks into two pieces: life in the wilderness and life in the town. Lots of ethical questions are raised throughout to keep you asking what you would do in Alex’s situation. Teens and adults alike are bound to get hooked on this first book in a planned trilogy.
I describe Ashes as a zombie book, but it is not really as simple as that. The great thing about Ilsa Bick’s zombies, which they are never actually called in the book, is that they aren’t the undead; they’ve just been “zapped” and their erratic behavior and taste for human and animal flesh are a side effect of the EMP. It begs the question: can these zombie-esque kids be saved? I was always under the impression that one the zombie apocalypse happens, we’re all just going to have to buckle down and figure out how to deal with the hoards, either by killing them or containing them. The undead are still pretty much dead. This book offers a hope that there is a chance things can go somewhat back to normal.
In case the changed don’t change back, Alex is one bad ass daughter a doctor and a cop who both happened to teach her the handiest aspects of their jobs in the event of a zombie invasion. She always seems to have some other skill up her sleeve, whether it is loading and shooting guns, stitching up gaping wounds, surviving in the woods with hardly any supplies, or riding horses. Luckily in the book her talents come across as being more awesome than convenient.
A real problem I had with this book was the sheer number of unanswered questions at the end, and it got me thinking. Is there an acceptable threshold for loose threads and dangling plot lines at the ends of a book? Shouldn’t the author have to answer at least a couple questions by the end? Throw us a bone here! However, I already have the sequel Shadows on hold at the library, so I guess Bick’s sadistic lack of answers worked in the end. It comes out on September 25, but at the rate we get books at the library, I should have it by November.