Monday, October 17, 2011

Society as the Cause of its Own Demise

We have weapons we don't completely understand. When the Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed, no one really understood the long-lasting consequences or the full range of destruction. Now, we have EMP bursts and sneaky ways of taking down a civilization that aren't even close to conventional weapons. How can we create and use something we know nothing about? In Ashes, by Ilsa Bick, you will see first hand how much damage we can do to our own species.

Alex has an inoperable brain tumor. She gave the treatments one last go with tiny nanotech beads of chemo that are supposed to travel through her bloodstream and cluster around the tumor to be activated later by a laser. When those beads fail, she decides to let the monster in her head have her. She takes her parents' ashes and travels to the expansive park to hike and make some important decisions. What she doesn't expect is run into a very nice gentleman and his orphaned granddaughter and then watch him die. With a pain in her head and body like she was being squeezed from all ends, Alex assumes she is dying. The old man is clearly gone, and now Alex is left with Ellie, the little girl. They have no idea what has happened, but all their electronics are fried. On their way down the mountain, they get a first hand show of just how crazy things have become- they find three teenagers eating a woman at a campsite.

Alex and Ellie get away undetected, but it is clear something is wrong. When they are attacked by a pack of dogs and another cannibalistic man, they are saved in the nick of time by Tom, a former soldier hunting the cannibal who used to be his friend. It seems some people survived, but not all are OK. Middle aged people dropped dead, older people and young children were spared, and young adults turned into zombie-like cannibals. They aren't exactly zombies- they can still feel pain, think (although only limited thought processes), are very strong, and die from normal fatal wounds, but they have lost all connection to humanity and eat anything they come across that still pumps warm blood.

Tom explains he was in the woods at the time the EMP burst and watched his friend Jim turn. Together they decide to find their way out of the woods to the ranger station. The station is abandoned, and while they stay their for a while, they know things will only get worse for the survivors. They decide to travel north to find a place to live and survive where there won't be many people (or crazy zombie-like teens who want to eat them). On the journey, they encounter what society has devolved into- looters who will do anything to stay alive. They take Ellie and wound Tom, leaving him and Alex to survive with no supplies and an infection gun shot wound. But Alex won't let Tom die and can't give up on Ellie. Will she be able to save them? Or will she lose everything... again.

Oh good grief, this book was intense! You will pick it up and won't be able to stop. I started reading, looked up about 140 pages later and realized it was almost midnight (way past my bedtime on a school night!). It was absolutely fantastic and I can't believe how it ended... Darn you Ilsa Bick! Leave me hanging with those last two sentences and just STOP! I know there are tow more books coming, but you want me to wait a whole YEAR for the next one! ARRGGHH! I call foul on that! But in all seriousness, this was an amazing, exciting, fast-paced book you won't be able to put down.

The reading level is fairly average, but there is some obvious violence you might not be comfortable giving some younger students. The violence isn't too graphic, but there is cannibalism, so you can make the judgment. The story line will keep anyone hooked, and I was one of its first victims! The characters are complex and deep, which makes you want to know more, but continue to question your feelings for them. My one critique was the strange make-up of age groups and what happened to them from the EMP. It seemed a little too random and not explained in any great depth (they assume brain chemistry had something to do with why certain age groups died, some recovered, and others turned). I hope it is explained better in the next books, because it left me a little skeptical about the premise with this book. Still, skepticism aside, this book was a crazy whirlwind that picked me up and spat me out the other side! Awesome! Simply Awesome!

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