Review of “Ashes” and Not-Really Review of “Shadows” by Ilsa J. Bick

Note: There are NO SPOILERS for either book!

Wow! This post-apocalyptic thriller series takes bleakness to whole new depths!

Let’s start with Ashes:


When Alexandra (“Alex”) Adair was fourteen, she lost both her parents to a freak accident. One year later she developed a brain tumor. Now, at age seventeen, she suspects she may not have much longer to live. She heads out on a hiking trip to Michigan’s Waucamaw Wilderness to spread her parents’ ashes. But just when it seemed as if nothing could get worse, the world itself turned mostly to ashes as a result of an EMP attack. [EMPs are high-intensity electromagnetic pulses that spread along magnetic fields and destroy anything relying on solid-state electronics.] The subsequent electronic systems failures and vaporizing cooling rods at nuclear facilities led to secondary nuclear events. Moreover, these EMPs didn’t just affect nuclear power plants and storage sites. Brains, being organs that rely on electricity to function, were also affected in this apocalyptic scenario. The people who survived the EMP attacks were differentially affected, depending on such factors as the age and conditions of their brains prior to exposure to the EMP. A large portion of people went insane and turned into zombie-like beings.

Alex is hampered in her attempt to get out of the wilderness by the added burden of an unexpected companion: an extremely bratty and tiresome 8-year-old girl whose grandpa dropped dead when the EMP went off. (He was on a pacemaker.) But Alex feels too guilty to abandon Ellie in spite of every provocation to do so, and they set out to find help.

And well, that’s just when things were going good for Alex!

I’m not even going to talk about Shadows, except to say it continues where Ashes leaves off, because there is a stunner of an ending for Ashes, and I wouldn’t want to spoil it!


Discussion: I’ve read a lot of post-apocalyptic and dystopian books, but this series is the grittiest and most disturbing one I have yet encountered. Nothing unpleasant or horrifying that occurs is prettied up or glossed over in this story. The reader gets the full sensory experience of everything that happens along with the characters. (Well, maybe not the FULL experience, but about as much as can possibly be conveyed without actually being on the scene!) These books may sound daunting, but they are also riveting, with thriller-like pacing and good characterizations. You will want to have Shadows on hand when you finish Ashes, because if you have the stomach for it, you will no doubt want to begin the second book as soon as you push your jaw back together from your mouth being wide open at the ending of the first!

Evaluation: I had a few quibbles with some aspects of the story not sounding true, but for the most part, I chose to overlook them in light of the overall wow-ness of the reading experience. Beware: Shadows is even darker than Ashes, and includes sex (or a very twisted facsimile thereof) which is not the case in Ashes. Shadows is not a standalone.

Ashes Rating: 4/5

Shadows Rating: 3.5/5

Published by Egmont USA, 2011 and 2012


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9 Responses to Review of “Ashes” and Not-Really Review of “Shadows” by Ilsa J. Bick

  1. Wow! Gritty doesn’t normally bother me in books (movies are another thing altogether) but I’m not sure the dystopia aspect appeals to me. I’ll have to think about this one.

  2. Beth F says:

    Ok. adding them to my list. Between you and the Eccentric family I guess these are must-reads.

  3. Charlie says:

    It does sound gruesome (perhaps more so for the cover) but I know what you mean about other dystopias. These sound good if hard to read.

  4. zibilee says:

    You have convinced me with your very enthusiastic and clever review, and now I am adding these to my list. I love grit in my dystopians. It’s that particularity that seems to set these books apart!

  5. sagustocox says:

    The second book is one I found more disturbing than Ashes. These were book club reads and I found moments in the second book where words were completely wrong for the situation and misused — confused with words that sounded similar and the editors missed it — but the presentation of the first and the second books bothered me, though more so with the second book and its multiple perspectives.

    I’m glad that you enjoyed these though, they are adrenaline pumping.

  6. Not sure I am up to taking bleakness to a whole new depth…I am very sensitive! 😉

  7. I just finished Divergent and must read Insurgent and now you throw this one at me!!! 😉

  8. Just posted my thoughts on Shadows, so though I’d pop over here and see what you thought. You’re right that Shadows is a full sensory experience…and one that I didn’t need, lol.

    The Girl did read this one, but I read it aloud with her because she wanted me to censor out the “gross sex” parts, lol.

  9. stacybuckeye says:

    I love than The Girl wanted Anna to gloss over the sex parts and not the other way around! hahaha. Way too dark for me these days for sure.

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