Thursday, August 25, 2011

Joint Book Review Discussion: Ashes by Ilsa J Bick

So Michelle of Galleysmith and I thought it would be fun to have a conversational review about a few of my dystopian reads this month. These are more in-depth than my usual reviews and discuss plot points in a non-spoilery way. We've posted about a different book every Thursday, and our final book is ASHES.

Here’s the official summary:

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.
Also, because I loved the writing, I wanted to share a small excerpt (even though this from the ARC and could be different from the final published version):

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 your past was ashes and your parents were blanks: nothing more than holes in Swiss cheese. (p 13)

Michelle and I decided to discuss four topics: Genre classification, science, pacing/plotting and community vs individuality. The first two we discuss below, the second two we discuss over at Galleysmith.

Genre classification


Since the electromagnetic pulse that devastates the US happens in the beginning of the novel, I guess this is apocalyptic more than post-apocalyptic. The first half is very much a survival story, with Alex on the run from zombiefied humans while trying to protect Ellie, a spoiled young girl she runs into in the forest while hiking. The second half finds Alex in a town run by some sort of cult (very dystopian) that has plans that Alex is not exactly down with. I enjoyed both parts, but maybe give an edge to the first half because I was literally at the edge of my seat reading. That scene with the dogs - I almost had a heart attack!


I’m right there with you on the classifications. Apocalyptic in the first third, post-apocalyptic as the survivalist stuff played out and then finally dystopian when Alex landed in Rule. I have some misgivings (which are addressed in the pacing section) but overall I think Bick did a fantastic job of infusing the three different genre focus overall.


Yes, the story flowed really well from one element to another and Alex’s journey was natural in its progression (except for one big decision the group made that seemed more plot driven than character driven). And this was one of those books where you have the feeling that anything could happen. Bick doesn’t shelter her characters. No one is safe. It’s high stakes which equals high interest for this reader.


What I also liked, that falls into the anything can happen category, is the cliffhanger at the end. Typically I’m not a girl who likes to be left hanging with something huge and unanswered but man I really liked how this book ended. It definitely makes me want to read the next as soon as possible. More than that, I totally didn’t see it coming! Not even a little bit. Total kudos to Bick for that.


I am not a fan of cliffhanger endings when I have to wait more than a year to read the next book, so that knocked it down at least half a zombie chicken in my estimation. But as far as cliffhangers go - this one was certainly a zinger.



I just finished the first season of FRINGE, and I find paranormal science endlessly fascinating. There is so much cool paranormal science in this novel. First of all, you know that Alex is 17 and has a brain tumor. The pulse causes pretty much everyone between puberty and menopause to turn into a zombie - except Alex’s brain tumor spares her for some reason - and gives her a special sense of smell. And there is so much more to this idea that you discover during the novel and every time Bick gave me a tidbit, my eyes lit up in excitement. I love stuff like this.


This was, by far, the best part of the novel for me. Bick’s use of science was uniquely crafted and was used in such an interesting way to further the plot. Most importantly, it wasn’t written at such a high level (with loads of medical jargon and geek speak) that readers won’t be able to relate to it. She brought it down to earth, made it relatable, and best of all made it an original and realistic catalyst for the outcomes of the EMP. Speaking of science, the EMP stuff was equally impressive. Again, Bick distinguishes herself in the genre by taking on a little used piece of science and growing a number of additional interesting plot angles off of it. There wasn’t as much exploration of this element but I didn’t mind because I tend to enjoy getting to the point and not banging a person over the head with stuff.


And what’s really impressive is that she eventually addresses and answers the science questions she brings up - and in a logical way that I totally bought. This is not at all easy to do. Also, her spin on zombies feels fresh - not like something I’ve seen a billion times before. Props!


Ditto that, I didn’t feel overwhelmed or put off by the science at all. It added to the value and intrigue to the story as opposed to detracting from it by getting too technical. I wonder if she’ll explore the science vs. humanity scenario later?


That would be a great avenue to explore. I’m also wondering if there could possibly be a cure.

Read the rest of our discussion over at Galleysmith!

Zombie chickens say: We’re in love! Highly recommended and we can’t wait to see where Bick takes us next. (4.5 Zombie Chickens)

ASHES comes out very soon on Sept 6, 2011. Find out more about it at the author’s website

Song for the Ultimate Dystopian Playlist: Headlong into the Abyss by We Are Augustines. Sample lyric: "To keep driving from dreary and dead, to make bets we could not afford to. Follow me down."

See index of all dystopian reviews on Presenting Lenore


Splendibird said...

I have this one to read on my Kindle (yay for NetGalley!) and the more I read about the more I can't wait to get started. I loved this post, especially, as it seems that Ashes really lends itself to group dicussion.

Jules said...

Great review :)

I really enjoyed this book, especially the first half. I also didn't really like the cliffhanger ending where the story just stopped rather than had any sort of a more rounded ending. I quite like cliffhangers, but I hate the type that just means the story stops in mid flow.

I am looking forward to reading the next one in the series.

Anna said...

1) Your discussions are so fabulous. 2) Not a fan of the second half, but I'm just dying to read more!

Amanda said...

I read this one a little while ago thanks to NetGalley. I enjoyed it -and it was really interesting to get someone else's perspective on the story. Really enjoyed this post.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed Ashes up until she landed in Rule. That part just didn't work for me, unfortunately. I was really enjoying the action, science, and (most of) the characters up until that point. It ended up feeling as if I was reading a different book.

Zibilee said...

The quote you provided combined with the obvious joint enthusiasm that you both felt for this book is pretty darn enticing, I tell ya. The premise also sounds exciting, and like nothing I have come across before. It appears that I need to own this one on the day it's released!

Lucy said...

I'm planning to read this one soon. Love the discussion format for your review and I'm glad you both enjoyed it. Sounds like an exciting read!

Donna (Bites) said...

I'm so glad you liked ASHES. I was hooked into Ilsa's writing with DRAW THE DARK (another must read) and ASHES was even better. Waiting for SHADOWS is going to be torture.

candice (thecrjreviews) said...

Love the joint review, bouncing ideas off each other.

Good to hear that Lenore thought of Fringe while reading this. I love that show, DVR each week! Also, I'm very glad that the science is explained, not just to be excepted.

Allison said...

I'm starting this one right now, y'all's convo definitely has me raring to go!

...but dreading the cliffhanger.