Pub date September, 2011.
An electromagnetic pulse sweeps through the sky, destroying every electronic device and killing billions. For those spared, it's a question of who can be trusted and who is no longer human . . .
Desperate to find out what happened and to avoid the Changed, Alex meets up with Tom - a young army veteran - and Ellie, a young girl whose grandfather was killed by the electromagnetic pulse.
This improvised family will have to use every ou
nce of courage they have just to survive. (book back blurb)
When I first saw Ilsa's new book in a Publisher's Weekly article highlighting look-out YA books at BEA this year, I emailed her immediately and started hunting for her publicist's information to get a copy. I loved, loved, LOVED Draw the Dark so much that Ilsa could have written PUDDING!!! in blue crayon for 180 pages and I still would have wanted to read it. Guys, I don't love books like this very often but DRAW? OMFG love. So I saw a chance to jump at ASHES and I took it.
After some back and forth I ended up with a copy and my ultimate goal was to read it before BEA and then gush about it here and send my attending readers over to her signings to get copies. Obviously I'm just reviewing it now but gush I did already. And I hadn't even finished it at that point. Now that I've finished it, I want to consume it piece by piece, perhaps marinated in a nice remoulade sauce, so I an absorb her talent for my own.
Srsly, ASHES is an apocalyptic/dystopian novel that all other YA apocalyptic/dystopian novels should aspire to. None of those lazy worldbuilding, OMG lurve triangle piles of horse poop. Well, there's a little bit of a love triangle but it's more like two disjointed lines that haven't connected yet that are on like 25% opacity in Photoshop. It's all about the world and the characters surviving in it. Everything is so expertly figured out that it's hard, if not impossible, to find loopholes in the logic. The shit that should happen does. Nothing is conveniently explained away. There are no fades to black and then POOF everything is better. Logic rules. Science rules. This all makes the story pwn.
Alex is one hell of a strong, resilient character that almost wasn't. To keep this review spoiler-free, I won't say why but I will say when this girl needs to keep pushing forward, there isn't much that'll be able to stand in her way. And just when you think she gives up, she slaps you upside the head and proves you wrong. Ellie is the type of character you want to slap. Yeah she's young and scared but Alex is a better person than I probably would be if our roles were switched. Would I leave Ellie behind? No. Would I slap the snot right out of her when she gets petulant? Probably. At the very least be screaming my head off. My patience with children is pretty low under normal circumstances. And Tom. Dear Tom. What a saving grace he was. A perfect compliment, filling in the gaps in Alex's survival knowledge. And I loved how Ilsa balanced that relationship that, for the most part, wasn't there like it is in many other similar books.
One of the reasons why I liked ASHES so much. Romance isn't the focus. It's hardly even a blip on the radar. The book is about the world, the destruction of it and these characters' subsequent survival. Romance is tertiary at best and that's how I like it. There's just enough in there to spark something but she has you so sucked into the world that it doesn't really matter.
Ilsa's writing is detailed almost to a fault. There were a couple of places where it went on a little too long and gave a few too many details that probably wouldn't have hurt the story if they were removed but ultimately I didn't mind. All that detail played well when it mattered. Again, no spoilers but I will recommend not reading this book while eating anything. There were many times I found myself a little nauseous reading some of the things that happened. In a good way, if that's possible.
I alluded to it before but I'll say it straight out: Ilsa is merciless with her characters. She shows them no mercy. Anything that can happen to them will. They don't get reprieves, they don't get spared, they don't amazingly escape dangerous situations without some damage done at least. Logic holds strong to these characters and just because Alex is the MC doesn't mean she's boo-boo free. Holy hell no. If anything she gets it the worst. Ilsa does everything with her characters that I hope to do with mine. It takes true bravery to submit your babies to this kind of torture and I commend her for it. Not many authors do this and it makes her work all the stronger for it.
And last but not least, there are zombies. Sort of. They're not the already-dead-and-then-alive type of zombies. They're Changed. And evolving. Oh man they evolve and that makes them all the more terrifying.
Seriously, this book is terrifying. It will have you looking up at the sky and wondering what if. Because it could happen. It makes sense. So why wouldn't it? Truly frightening that at any second ZAP! Gone. And what then? ASHES is the type of apocalyptic/dystopian novel that gives other like-minded novels complexes. It puts them to shame in terms of worldbuilding and character development. And the ending? GAHHHHHHHHHHHH! If you don't want to read more after that ending, then go to a hospital and have them check your pulse because I think you might be dead.
Read ASHES. Now. Or when it comes out. You will not regret it.
You want an ARC of ASHES? You know you do. Because you want to bask in its awesomeness. So just fill out the form below for your chance to win a copy. Open to US residents 13 years of age and older only. One entry per person per email address. Duplicate entries will be deleted. Contest ends June 14th at midnight, EST.