After reading and loving the first two books in Moira Young’s Dustlands series I thought maybe post-apocalyptical YA are exactly what has been missing in my life, so right away I went through all the kindle books I’ve bought to see if I have anything to fit the criteria. Thus I found ‘Ashes’.
Sadly, Ashes is nothing like Dustlands. It seems that everything that Young did right, Bick did wrong. Inevitably there will be a lot of comparisons in this review.
It starts off nicely. Alex, a teenage girl with brain cancer, is on a lone camping trip where she hopes to finds herself. Suddenly, a ‘zap’ happens, which miraculously cures her from cancer but kills everybody between the ages of twenty-five and sixty. What’s left is scared old people and teenagers who in their majority (bar a few exceptions like Alex) have turned into zombie-like figures and are out to eat the old people. Let me tell you – the generational gap has never been quite this painful. Since the dawn of time, old people said that young people were wild – yet, this time it’s literal.
The first part of the book is the survival sort of story which includes Alex, another spared young person – Tom and a little girl called Ellie (a set-up almost identical to Blood Red Road). It should be great - survival, forest, a girl and a guy against the world and zombie-like freaks… I have dreams like that and they are happy dreams. Yet, the book doesn’t quite reach its potential. Its biggest problem is probably the cardboard characters who never act in any consistent way that would give us some clue as to their personalities. Ellie switches from being an utter brat to being a bright, lovely and loving girl. Alex is sometimes a damsel in distress, who almost faints when she needs to clean Tom’s wound and sometimes she is as hard as rocks, telling another character, she’d been practising surgical stitches with her doctor mother when she was still a little girl.
The obvious romance between Tom and Alex is hard to believe because we haven’t got a clue who these two even are. Even though Alex is probably a fairly nice person, I’d take a rough on the edges Saba from Blood Red Road over Alex anytime.
Ilsa Bick also tries to cram way too many things into this book, never developing anything. She introduces love triangle quite early on before we can develop any feelings for any of the characters. She abandons the survival story in favour of some random post-apocalyptic misogynistic dystopia, that, frankly, has already been done to death and is neither here nor there in this book. The second part of the book is where plot loses any sense of direction and pointlessly goes in circles just to be finally wrapped up with one of the most eyebrow-raising endings.
The author tries to make up for the shortcomings of the plot with fore-shadowing (like “This was the last good day”) and unnecessary cliff-hangers at the end of each tiny chapter which annoy rather excite. The chapter would always end mid-scene (quite like a commercial break on the tv) which made no narrative sense – what was the point of those chapters if they didn’t correlate with scenes and events?
None of it is rescued by Bick’s writing which is average at best of times and poor at other times. Her third person narrator is usually eloquent enough only to break into random teenage talk for no reason:
“Like the way Reglan made her all twitchy, with a horrible, total-body sensation of ants swarming over her skin. So she’d been a total spaz and nauseous, which sucked.”
There is no need for that troglodyte language when you narrate in the third person!
Funnily enough, Saba, the narrator of Blood Red Road uses very poor grammar and says things like ‘I ain’t affeared of nuthin’, yet her whole narration sounds more smooth, congruent and beautiful.
So no, I won’t be continuing this series, because despite a cliff-hanger ending I couldn’t care less what happens to Alex, and whether she ends up with Tom or Chris or eaten by zombies.