Book review: Ashes

The zombies are coming for you... and those who haven't changed will kill to survive. Just who can be trusted in a world where everything changes in a split second?

Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick (Quercus)
It happens when Alex is hiking through the forest: an electromagnetic pulse flashes and destroys every electronic and computerised device in an instant.

People are dead and the landscape changes in that brief second the EMP hits the earth.

It doesn't take Alex long to realise that those who have survived, may probably have been better off if they had been struck down; because out of those that still are alive, the population can now be divided into two different categories.

The first group consists of those who have been altered in such a way that they've developed superhuman sense as a result of the pulse, while the second group are those who have suddenly developed an eerie and unnatural taste for human flesh.

When Alex meets Tom, a young army veteran on the run, and Ellie, a young girl who lost her grandfather to the shattering electromagnetic force, they can't help but notice that:

a) Most of the kids Alex and Tom's age have undergone the change from human to zombie/cannibal;

b) The older generation seem to have been spared, but some are now hunting those that are Alex and Tom's age  because of the threat they pose - even though a select few of them seem to have been spared and,

c) Surviving in the wilderness is not going to be all fun and games. At all.

Between trying to stick together, scrounging for food, battling to make the best out of a situation with their own lives at stake, Alex, Tom and Ellie will live together, fight together and be torn apart. 

And when that happens, Alex will need to face the possibility that sometimes finding solace and protection often harbours the most dangerous secrets of all.


There is an overabundance of  dystopian fiction in the world of literature lately, and I, for one, am quite happy about this.

It took some time for me to get into this genre, but after reading books like Never Let Me Go, Divergent and Wither, well, colour me addicted.

When Ashes arrived on my desk, my curiosity was immediately piqued. At first glance, it sounded like just another one of those run-of-the-mill zombie reads. The moment I started reading it, my opinion quickly changed.

The first thing that stood out for me is that Ilsa J. Bick is a phenomenal writer. Her writing is stark and beautiful against a world reduced to ashes and dust. The world she's built is vividly frightening and leaves one with a sense of desolation.

You're struck with a feeling of hopelessness and are completely caught up in Alex's world as she struggles to make it on a day-to-day basis, while not only fending for herself, but helping Tom to look after Ellie, who, no doubt due to losing her grandfather, often behaves like a petulant brat.

The next thing that became apparent to me is that Ilse made sure that this dystopian fiction world she's created is a hostile playground for humans and animals alike - and that surviving would not be very easy for the trio.

Just when they've fought their way through a zombie attack, humans who haven't undergone the change, fight them off for their supplies.

It's a never-ending cycle of "just when will they get a break?" and it left me, as the reader, feeling both exhilarated and exhausted by it. It's also, I think, I fantastic (if rather obvious) way to keep the reader glued to the pages, especially if you make sure that almost each chapter ends with a bit of a cliffhanger.

The emotions evoked in the characters are strong, emphatic and incredibly real. Alex is a fantastic heroine. She's been taught how to survive and has some incredible fighting skills to boot. And with the supersense she's developed - she's also become gold for others who've been spared.

Along the way, she also finds herself caught between her growing feelings two boys, each of them as different as night as day, and each of them with their own strengths. Honestly, both boys are so likeable that I think Alex is in for a tough time when it comes to making a decision.

I wish I could review this novel in its entirety as there are so many complex layers that make this such a compelling read, but I'd be giving it all away.

What you can look forward to though is a deeply intricate novel where rules can either make or break you, where cult leaders may take advantage of situations and where one girl, who may just lose her heart to two very different boys, is forced to use every single survival skill she's harnassed, to make it out alive.

Oh and that epic cliffhanger at the end? It will have you begging for the next book in the trilogy. I so didn't see that one coming.

Pick it up. You'll want to read this.

Disclaimer: This review also appears on the Women24 website, a South African Lifestyle website where I work as an online lifestyle journalist and manage our site's Books, Bridal and Community hubs.


Hi fellow SA blogger! I've been interested in getting a copy of Ashes but I wasn't so sure if I would enjoy it. But after reading your review I think I have to get myself a copy. I'm also a fan of Divergent and Wither, so I'm sure this will be right up my alley. Great review!

Steph@The YA Reader
Ashley Lavering said…
Your review was great and fun to read. I think you might like Angel Fall by Sue Ee.
Ashley Lavering said…
Your review was great and fun to read. I think you might like Angel Fall by Sue Ee.
Susan said…
I'm glad you enjoyed this one so much. I loved it, too. Bick is a fabulous writer and I cannot wait for the sequel to ASHES!

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