Ilsa Bick: Ashes

For someone who professes not to like YA, I sure do seem to be reading a lot of it lately. I can’t help it. My daughter keeps handing me books and telling me that I “have” to read them. Well I am not normally a pushover, but when my daughter shoves books at me I am powerless, completely powerless, to resist.

In my last post I complained that the author created false suspense by withholding information from the reader that the characters knew. Well that sure wasn’t a problem in Ashes, because the main character was completely clueless, and every piece of the puzzle that she solved, we solved right along with her. In fact, if anything, it was the other way around, where I had my suspicions about certain things well before she did. (Now that’s a whole different thing, isn’t it. Suspense created when you know what’s going on but the character does not. That can be truly unbearable… in the best possible way!)

Anyway, Ashes is a zombie post-apocalypse dystopia kind of thing. If you don’t like that genre, I would definitely skip this book. It is very dark, very violent, and has an extremely pessimistic view of human nature. The worst, freakiest part of the book is not the zombies but the human settlement *shudder.* It reminded me of that movie The Village, which despite its flaws couldn’t be beat for sheer spooky atmosphere.

However, what was really weird about Ashes was that it ended extremely abruptly, leaving so many plot threads dangling that the story felt completely unbalanced. There was no real climax, nor any denouement. The reason why Becca wanted me to read it, in fact, was so that I could share her frustration and puzzlement. “I just hope she’s planning to write a sequel,” said Becca, annoyed.

So I did what I always do when I am frustrated and puzzled, which is to visit Google. I found out right away that Ashes is book one of a planned trilogy, with Shadows and Monsters forthcoming. Ok! Phew!

But that got me thinking. I realized it is relatively rare that I read a newly-published first of a series. I can think of a few other series that I read as they came out — No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games — but in all of those the individual volumes are just fine as stand-alone novels, even as they leaving you dying for more. That is not the case with Ashes. I think the publisher should have waited until she had written all three and then published them in a single volume.

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