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