This book really has one overarching theme of survival. The first of these survival themes is survival in the wilderness. Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick 17-year-old Alex is an orphan who is has terminal cancer. She’s fed up with the different treatments that aren’t going to help because her brain tumor is inoperable. She decides it’s time to take a journey into the middle of the wilderness to scatter her parents ashes, so she leaves home without telling her aunt and heads out on a weeklong hike to her destination. On her trip a phenomenon occurs that she later finds out is has to do with electromagnetic pulses. All her electronic devices stop working and Alex witnesses some strange behavior from some animals, along with a shocking and sudden death during the phenomenon. As the story progresses we find out that most people didn’t survive the EMP. The EMP also gives Alex some interesting new abilities that make up some of my favorite parts of the story. Along the way Alex has also ends up in care of an 8-year-old girl named Ellie. This is when the second part of the survival theme comes in to play, zombies. We find out that some people didn’t just die in the EMP, they changed. I thought the mix of wilderness and zombie apocalypse survival was great and for me Alex somehow becomes a more relatable character around this point in the story. Eventually Alex and Ellie meet Tom, a 20-year-old war veteran who helps save their lives. Together the three of them struggle to make it out of the wilderness alive.
I don’t want to give too much away, so I’ll just say that the second half of the book is completely different from the first half. There are some many changes that it almost feels like a different story and there are a lot more characters introduced. At first I couldn’t decide if these changes were good or if I liked the story after this point, but ultimately I decided in some ways it made a little bit of sense for the characters to find other people who weren’t just on the run. This half is where Alex gets to the town of Rule. Rule is a little strange and there are a lot of parts where some of the characters in the town are kind of mysterious and cryptic about some of the things that Alex asks about. It’s really more about survival in society for this portion of the story and I think it was a really a natural progression for the plot to go. There are also some interesting characters in Rule for me, the author throws them at you a little fast, so you meet about ten people in a few chapters, but it’s not that difficult to figure it all out. The tumor is in the back of Alex’s mind through the whole book and I thought that was another great aspect of survival. Having her think about the “monster” as she calls it and how long she has left before the end.
The book started off a little shaky for me and I wasn’t sure I would like Alex, the protagonist. It took me a few pages to feel ready to be in head for the duration of the book. Once the story picked up for me though, it did not disappoint. I think Ellie and Tom were great characters as well, along with some of the later characters in Rule (Jess, Lena, Chris, Peter, and Kincaid just to name a few). I thought the story had a lot of great action packed parts, it was also pretty gruesome. I wouldn’t recommend it for someone who doesn’t like a little bit of horror. The end of the book has a big cliff hanger that was something I didn’t see coming at all and I’m really looking forward to reading the second book in this trilogy, Shadows.