Monday, March 26, 2012

Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick

The Book Talk:

The Review:

I've been curious about this author.  She wrote another book I was intrigued by and never got around to reading called Draw the Dark (it just looks dark and creepy and different), but when I saw that she wrote a dystopianish zombie novel, I dropped everything to read it.  In many ways, I was not disappointed.  In some ways, I really was.  So here's what I liked and what I wished had been a little different.

What I Liked:

Ashes is continually surprising all the way through.  It's a fairly long novel, and after a pretty explosive beginning I immediately wondered "Where is this possibly going to go from HERE?".  And it went places.  Bick expertly combines MANY different elements (first love, terminal illness, grief, survival, killing, cannibalism, power, etc. etc. etc.) into one story. And it all works together.  I think a less skilled writer would have been bogged down by how many different elements come together in this story, but fortunately Bick is an excellent storyteller.

I also really really enjoyed the fact that Bick does not shy away from the gore.  There were moments in this story where I was reading it in the break room at work while eating, and I literally had to put it down in order to finish my meal.  Alex comes across some pretty awful stuff, and as someone who reads and watches a lot of horror, I was impressed with how affecting Bick's description of brutality and disgustingnesswere.

Maybe most importantly, I liked Alex.  She's a bad ass female character who develops throughout the story and feels like a real person.  She reminded me a little bit of Katniss -- self-assured and no-nonsense and ready to do what needs to be done to survive.

What I wished had been a little different:

This is a little picky thing, but some of the dialogue really bothered me.  At one point, there's a character who is supposed to be in his late teens (and he's supposed to be kind of a tough army dude) who keeps referring to an eight-year-old girl as "honey".  It just felt odd, and it kept happening and every time it happened it bothered me.  I talk to a lot of teens with younger siblings, and none of them refer to them as "honey".

Secondly, Ashes is really separated into three sections, and each one is VERY different from the one before.  And I actually really liked that about it.  For me, the themes of the book can be separated into three major dominating themes: 1. Survival 2. Relationships 3. Reorganization of Society.  HOWEVER, I believe this was a missed opportunity.  This was a PERFECT chance for an author to write a (gasp) SERIES.  A series you say?  Not a trilogy?  But trilogies are so in right now!  But...if you have one book that really could easily be separated into three separate books with distinct story lines, and you're planning three books...couldn't you just write nine shorter books and have them be distinct stories that work together for a whole?  I miss reading a series of books!  When I was a teen, I was totally into reading book after book starring a character I loved and a compelling plot.  I think it's time to bring this back, especially when it could serve the scope of the story as well as it could in Ashes.  If Bick had an opportunity to spend an ENTIRE book on each of her themes, I think she could have gone even further than she had in exploring each individual part of the plot, and I would have liked it even more.

Related to the previous point, I think this would have solved the problem of the ending.  The ending of this book is a problem.  It's a problem in that it's not an ending.  Spoiler alert (not really, because I'm not giving away what exactly happens, but if you want to be completely surprised you probably want to stop reading now): this book freaking ends in the middle of a SCENE.  In the middle of possibly the most interesting and exciting scene in the entire book.  WHY???  Now I have to wait a year to find out what happens at the end of the scene?  Really?  It really felt like the publisher said "OK...well...this book is kinda three books already, so let's stop it here because if we don't it'll just keep going forever."  It just bugged me.  It might be a good way to sell books, but it's not a good way to keep a reader's trust.

So basically, this book has a lot to love.  But it's not perfect.  But I think teens will gobble it up and await the next book anxiously (how could they not?  WHAT HAPPENS NEXT??).