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I don’t think it’s any secret that I’m
kind of seriously addicted to dystopian/post-apocalyptic novels. Books that fall in this category make up my third largest genre-related book shelf on Goodreads. Coming in at probably 90%, it’s the shelf with the most books I’ve actually read from any single genre, period. Sure, there are still a few books I’ve shelved under this heading that I haven’t read, but all in good time.
That said, I was instinctively drawn to Ashes, purely for the subject matter. I HAD to have this book. So, I preordered it and got some really awesome swag for my trouble (see below). I fully intended to read this book as soon as it arrived, but life got in the way. I’ve been yearning to read it ever since. And then along comes Audible, with a BOGO sale, and I picked up the audio for Ashes, along with The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, which I adored. But that’s neither here nor there, where Ashes is concerned.
After listening to Ashes, as narrated by Katherine Kellgren, I find myself regretting not getting to this novel sooner. It was full of heart-pounding, pulse-racing, eye-bugging action. And the narrator did an absolutely fantastic job of conveying that. She had me gasping for breath right along with her. This is the first time I’ve experienced this narrator’s work, but I was thrilled with it. As always, the voice had to grow on me for a few chapters before it fit the main character, but boy, did she sell it!
So, I’m separating this review into two halves. The book itself is separated into more than two parts, but the big dividing factor, for me, was everything that happened before Alex got to Rule and then everything after. In all fairness, Before Rule actually encompasses more like 2/3 of the book, but let’s not get nitpicky.
Alex is alone. She is terminally ill. She is up on a mountain, saying a final goodbye to her parents when the most incredible, life-altering thing happens: an electro-magnetic pulse is emitted, killing everyone between the ages of 20 and 60, and changing nearly everyone younger. I say nearly because Alex and Ellie, a girl on a hike with her grandfather, are seemingly unaffected. Except that Alex isn’t wholly unaffected.
Alex and Ellie are making their way down the mountain when one of the changed discovers them. At this point, it’s kill or be killed because this guy may or may not be a zombie, but they’ve already witnessed two kids feeding on the flesh of a dead woman, so they’re not taking any chances. Thank goodness Tom is there to save the day!
The three stick together, survival instincts kicking in, and they make it off the mountain. Alex and Tom develop some theories as to what’s happened, but at this point, they’re only guessing. Tom’s a military man, so his assumptions are probably pretty close to the truth; though, this is only the first book, so we won’t know for sure for awhile yet.
Trust is earned, bonds are developed, and the relationship between Tom and Alex develops slowly. It’s natural and effortless, and best of all, it’s not all-consuming. They take care of one another, and when it’s necessary, they do what they have to do to survive, even if it’s painful. They’ve been through so much already, and they know that the world will not stop for them.
Even with the addition of Tom as a love interest, Alex remains strong and keeps her wits about her. She is clever and tough-as-nails, as I expect my heroines to be. Rather than recoiling in fear, she defends herself against the changed and lives to fight another day.
Up to this point, the novel has been suspenseful, raw, and emotional. It really packs a punch and never lets up. It’s one awful thing after another, and yet our characters persevere. And through it all, I never had the sense that I knew what to expect. Nothing’s worse than a predictable novel, in my book, so if that’s what you’re looking for, please move to the right while this book forges on, full-speed ahead.
Alex is separated from her companions, for reasons that would be spoilery to reveal in this review, so we’ll leave it at that. Just as she was told, Rule exists as a settlement of survivors, mostly those over the age of 60. But there are a few exceptions. However, even knowing there are exceptions doesn’t make these people any more likely to trust Alex. Apparently, the change isn’t always immediate.
In Rule, Alex loses some of her edge, her very self. She is trapped and wants very much to leave this settlement, despite having worked so hard to get here. But that’s understandable. Alex expected to feel safe in Rule, but even after everything she’s seen and gone through, this place is probably scarier than anything she’s encountered thus far.
The second half of the book reminds me a little of Pam Bachorz’s Drought. The people and the place have a very cult-like feel to them, and the fact that they won’t let Alex travel the streets on her own, let alone leave the complex altogether, doesn’t sit well…with Alex or with me.
Add to that the fact that a second love interest is introduced, or rather forced upon Alex by the elders in Rule, and Alex’s predicament seems even creepier, if that’s possible. Yes, she develops feelings for this boy – I wasn’t tempted by this guy at all, so you’ll forgive me if I don’t recall his name at the moment, though I think it started with a D – but always weighing at the back of her mind is the fact that she isn’t really being given a choice in the matter, that this romantic alliance was practically thrust upon her the minute she stepped foot in Rule.
Even in Rule, Alex manages to find herself in daunting situations time and time again. But it’s the way that she reacts to them that leaves something wanting. Where is the Alex from Before Rule? The one who took on a changed with a Glock? The calculating, logical, whip-smart girl who placed survival at the top of her priority list?
We finally catch another glimpse of her at the end of the book, only to be thrown off course again by the most incongruous cliffhanger I’ve seen in awhile. A slam your fist against the desk, WTF, trail-derailing kind of cliffhanger. I never lost interest in this story, even when I didn’t like where it was going, but if I had, that ending would have brought me around full circle to the extreme end-of-the-world high I had pre-Rule.
And for your viewing pleasure, the cover of Shadows, the sequel to Ashes, was just recently revealed:
I LOVE this cover, and if I wasn't already chomping at the bit for this sequel, I definitely would be after seeing that creepy cover. Looks like she's being chased, which makes sense, but it really adds to the creepy-factor. What do you think?