Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Down


When I was much much younger (say 13 or so) I had a hearing problem. By the end of the day, if anyone would speak to me on my left side; I couldn’t hear them.  Now, of course my parents thought I was just ignoring them (what parent wouldn’t) and, as suspected, went about their business, until one day they finally came to the conclusion that something might actually be wrong.  So, being the wonderful parents that they are (yes, this is me sucking up) they took me to the doctor. The doctor (finding nothing wrong) sent me to a specialist, which then sent me to see a sleep diagnostician. Turns out I’m deaf as a doornail when I’m tired. (Who knew that was even possible?) But that’s not the point. Like always this little peek into the quirky workings of my body sparked a fascination with the human brain and how it works. Let me give you a quick rundown so you too can be filled to the brim with random useless information.

The brain consists of about 100 billion cells. MOST of these cells are called neurons (remember that word from HS anatomy class?) A neuron is basically an on/off switch. You know that little switch that controls the lights in your home that no one sees fit to turn off when they leave the room? Let’s just pretend you have one of those in your head.  There are two options for this switch. It is either in a resting state (off) or it is shooting an electrical impulse down a wire (on). The “wire”  is called an axon (<–be sure to throw that out during parties.  It’s guaranteed to make you sound much smarter than you actually are.) Anyways, the “wire” has a “spigot” at the end of it that shoots chemicals across a gap (synapse) where it triggers another neuron and sends a message (or ELECTRICAL CHARGE) telling you to…I don’t know…hop like a frog. Smirk. Shoot the bird to the dude that just cut you off in traffic. Long story short…your brain is like a big ass jumper box. You think it, your mind lights up like the fourth of July and the next thing you know you are on the side of the road apologizing to Bruno the brunt of your road rage.

Why is this important? Well for starters, I love strutting my stuff when it comes to random crap I felt the need to research. Second, the fact that your brain’s total power has been estimated to equal a 60 watt bulb, is a pretty intricate part of Ilsa J Bick’s novel “Ashes.”

“It could happen tomorrow . . .

 An electromagnetic pulse flashes across the sky, destroying every electronic device, wiping out every computerized system, and killing billions.

Alex hiked into the woods to say good-bye to her dead parents and her personal demons. Now desperate to find out what happened after the pulse crushes her to the ground, Alex meets up with Tom—a young soldier—and Ellie, a girl whose grandfather was killed by the EMP.

For this improvised family and the others who are spared, it’s now a question of who can be trusted and who is no longer human.”

Now, I have been around the block once or twice when it comes to zombies, so forgive me if I was just cocky enough to believe I had read every conceivable scenario when it came to creating foot draggers. Chemical warfare. Brain parasites. Real Rage Virus (fyi…this is my favorite.) Neurogensis. Nanobots. (Do I need to keep going?) What I hadn’t expected was something as basic (Ha! Basic…) as an EMP. But, given how the brain works (that YOU now know as well  – if you didn’t skim this review like a naughty naughty child) creating an apocalyptic zombie showdown due to electromagnetic pulses is surprisingly brilliant. (Or smart…whichever you deem more impressive.) But…I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s talk about Alex first.

Just to be clear, this book is classified as a YA novel. The trip up…it doesn’t read like one.  Yes, Alex is young, but her circumstances (and no, I’m not talking about Zula and Zed the Zombies looking for a snack pack) have forced her into early maturity. 1.  She lost both of her parents due to a tragic accident. 2. She is dying.  Of cancer. Because of these two personal struggles her dialogue (for the most part) does not reflect her age. Does that mean she talks like a 40-year-old District Attorney? No, she has her moments of pig-headedness that all teenagers have, but her ability to adapt to struggle and life threatening events does not mimic those of a 17-year-old panicky girl. She’s determined. She’s smart (this IS a survivalist novel after all.) And a quarter of the way in she becomes a mother figure to another character.  But (cause there is ALWAYS a “but”) all of these beaming qualities are not what sold me on Alex’s character. The fact that she trusts no one did. It’s not often that I read a book that by the END of the book, the lead character still thinks everyone around her is a little sketchy. She may love them.  Want to take care of them, but it doesn’t mean she thinks they’ll have her back.  I commend this. This trait (if nothing else) SCREAMS I am a human being, and seeing the “humanity” flawed or otherwise in Alex allowed me to connect with her. I don’t know about you, but a few weeks in a cabin playing Susie Homemaker does not mean you get a free pass. Even if I kissed you.

Zombies and overly matured teenage girls aside. I did have a few issues with the plot. (*gasp* Oh no!! Not the plot!) While I liked the book (hello…it’s ZOMBIES) I was a little turned off by the sudden focus explosion that popped up at about the 60% mark.  Here I was, enjoying a nice little romp in the woods, knee-deep in carcases and creepy birds when BAM! I suddenly found myself camped in a town (and I use that term very loosely…think cult) called Rule where everyone is either (A) spewing religious diatribes or (B) plotting to overthrow Rule’s hierarchy. It was disturbing interesting enough but ultimately took away the focus of the entire first half of the novel. The Zombies became an afterthought and manipulated population (that’s “fancy” for “Y’all are gonna make a baby because we said so”) became the spatula in the pan. (Dang that was a horrible analogy. I should try that again.) became the milk in the cereal bowl (Ugh, that was worse.)

To add insult to injury (pun intended) the ending was so abrupt I’m pretty sure I got whiplash.

Overall, not bad. I’d take Jonathan Mayberry’s “Rot & Ruin” over this ditty any day of the week, but I don’t feel like I “lost time” reading this book either. Which is pretty gosh darn important.

Let’s just stamp this one “Middle of the Road.”

Happy Reading my fellow Kindle-ites and remember:  Know your environment, use it to your advantage.

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About Misty

Your friendly neighborhood narcissist. I'm sarcastic, cynical and a bit cranky. I own a soap box so big that sometimes I have difficulty stepping down off of it, and I'm about 94% certain I have multiple personalities. I don't sleep enough, and I read more than any person should ever consider normal. I have anger management issues, especially when I'm stuck in traffic and I have an unhealthy obsession with my Kindle. I am a vampire lovin', zombie obsessed, book-in-hand, iPod freak. You either love me or hate me. You be the judge.

5 thoughts on “Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Down

  1. hmmm may give this one a try but will move it a little down on the priorities list. Have you read Dies The fire by S.M. Sterling? Just finished it and will be looking for more. Dystopic (but no zombies) but also the power goes out every where. The world building is awesome and how they figure out survival. I picked it up after someone on Facebook wondered if the new tv show Revolution might be based on it. I still have not really answered that question but I enjoyed the book. Longish but good story and great characters.

    1. I haven’t read that one, but I’ll be sure to add it to the list. You know me, of its Dystopian I’m gonna snatch it up. Thanks for the rec. 🙂

  2. Awesome review!

    I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this one. I’ve got a terrible phobia of zombies, the kind that has actually kept me up at night with circular chaotic thoughts about what if zombies are real, what if they came right now, my apartment isn’t defensible, holy crap I’ve got to get up and stare out the window all night to make sure I see them coming and have time to get away. But Ilsa Bick’s writing had already caught me from an earlier book, so I gave this one a chance.

    And I don’t regret it.

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