Author: Ilsa J. Bick
Release Date: Out in paperback July 2012
Be warned, all who want to read this book. Ashes, by Ilsa J. Bick, is not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach. Only if the reader is experienced in the division of horror, then he or she will truly adore the brilliant attributes that the book conceals within. The plot is morbidly enthralling and the writing style is grimly delightful.
The author sets up this story beginning with a sixteen-year-old girl named Alex who runs away to hike and reflect on her life. Then the author apparently decides that this has to be a short novel and reveals that Alex has a brain tumor. She hikes through the wilderness and after about four days she runs into an old man and his granddaughter, Jack and Ellie. They chat about various subjects, though not Alex’s impending death by brain tumor, for a little while until an inconceivable disaster strikes. Inexplicably animals around them take flight. A metallic screech fills the air with its agonizing presence. Unendurable agony rips through the brains of Ellie and Alex. Their pain was like an inferno in their skulls, like lasers scorching the neurons. While they only feel agony Jack begins to violently cough up blood and pitch over, dead. The story that follows is a grim tale of survival in a post-apocalyptic world.
The plot continually increases the tension in some new and inconceivable way. Here is one example: Alex and Ellie arrive at a campsite in search of food but instead they find children hunched over the body of an elderly woman, eating her remains, like animals. A jolt on that scale does not keep on happening throughout the book, but there is always some twist right around the corner, waiting to petrify the reader with terror. The book seems to be written with no clear story arc, as if the author doesn’t want the characters to have a nice, neat resolution. This departs from our cultural norm, but the story reads more naturally than if it were structured to have a neat ending. The book also contains no real overarching resolution because it was written as a part of a series. The ending was absolutely perfect and absolutely terrifying. It is a cliffhanger that makes people beg bookstore attendants for a copy, even if the sequel hasn’t come out yet. The plot is ingenious.
Ilsa J. Bick’s writing style is superbly gruesome. She excels in creating cringe-worthy phrases. Consider page 119, “I know this smell, Alex thought—and then horror bloomed in her chest. Oh God, I know this. The stench was like summer, hot and torrid: a stink of tarry asphalt and roadkill bloated with decay. The reek was thick as fog, a plague of rotted flesh and squashed guts, so bad it balled in her mouth and coated her tongue. Her eyes inched left. And that’s when she saw the man.” The chapter ends there. Words portray the foulest of smells and the horrors behind them. The tension builds until the reader is turning slowly to look behind himself to make sure this nightmarish thing is not actually behind him.
This book, while being quite compelling it is not for everyone. The quote from the book is only a miniscule part of the horrific imagery contained inside. While I absolutely cherished this book I also cherish other unspeakably horrifying books. This is a book for advanced readers who will not shy away from the bloody and the gruesome. Only those who have read horror and enjoyed it will have the wherewithal to finish and enjoy Ashes.
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