"Ashes" by Ilsa J. Bick [PG Review]

 Book Review of Ashes by Ilsa Bick

{This is a Parental Guidance review, and contains spoilers}

 Ashes is all about surviving every worst case scenario you can imagine, both physical and emotional. 

Synopsis of Ashes

Alex goes camping alone to say goodbye to her dead parents by spreading their ashes, and to try to deal with her personal demons. But an electromagnetic pulse (the Zap) changes the world as we know it, by suddenly destroying all electronic devices, and reprogramming humanity into 1) crazed zombies 2) survivors, some with new abilities 3) millions of just plain dead people.

Alex eventually meets up with others, and life is reduced to the trials of day-to-day survival and trying to figure out who is still human, who wants to tear your throat out, and who has other twisted plans for those who have survived. 


Alex has survived the death of her parents, only to be stricken with an inoperable tumor that robs her of her sense of smell (and therefore taste) as well as many of her memories.

She goes on a camping trip alone in the wilderness, presumably to spread her parents' ashes on Lake Superior, but she has considered suicide in the past, and you get the feeling that she might not have intended to return from this trip. We don't find out if she would have actually gone through with this plan, because the Zap incapacitates her temporarily. It kills some people immediately, and turns others into zombies.

Alex meets up with a couple other survivors, begins to fall in love, and settles into her new 'family'. Not so fast - she loses them, too, as well as all their supplies and transportation.

She is rescued, or should I say captured, and taken into a town called Rule. This town is ruled by a council headed by a religious fanatical type. It sounds in many ways like a cult, with a totalitarian leadership, and girls being Chosen by the guys for courtship/procreation.

By Ilsa J. Bick

Our heroine faces all of the monsters in her life with level-headed courage and intelligence. She has a 'monster' in her head in the form of a tumor, but now she is surrounded by monsters that rip people open and eat their innards, and the people of Rule have a monstrous secret that Alex will eventually see for herself.

Alex experiences loss after loss, including the precious ashes of her parents. When you read the last page, you will most likely throw the book against the wall in complete despair and frustration. However, this is the first book of a trilogy, so you can discover Alex's fate in Shadows and  Monsters.

It is essential that you suspend disbelief to enjoy this story. For instance, while it is interesting to see the zombie apocalypse caused by something other than a virus, the premise is that an EMP explosion zaps all tech everywhere in the world, triggering nuclear waste facilities to go KABOOM, frying the brains of people of certain ages while leaving others exempt yet curing others of brain tumors and Alzheimer's and giving them extra abilities. Whew!

Alex is unusually capable for a girl of her age, which is not a bad thing. Her father taught her camping and wilderness survival skills. Her mother was a doctor that had her practice stitching wounds with chicken legs - now that's a really special mother/daughter bonding moment. However, I wish more parents taught their kids useful life skills, so I'm not complaining.

If you like doomsday, apocalyptic, disaster, or zombie fiction, you will enjoy Ashes. I was invested in Alex's well-being from page 1, and after the Zap, the pace is unrelenting.

Sensitive, Objectionable or Mature Content

  • Death and suicide - Alex has considered suicide, and she also discusses with another survivor the need to kill each other if either one of them begins to Change. And of course, this IS a zombie apocalypse story.

  • Graphic violence/gore - Did I mention that this is a zombie apocalypse story? Plenty of gross descriptions of wounds, decomposing bodies, zombies chomping, gushing blood, and the eating of innards.

  • Peril - Civilization goes downhill fast. People very quickly begin to kill and steal to survive.

  • Sexual situations/references - Alex experiences love twice in this book, and considers sleeping with one guy, but her feelings are limited to yearning, and her actions to about three smooches, although one is a very passionate liplock. It is suggested that the girls in Rule are being kept as 'baby makers'.

  • Profanity/Obscenity- There are about 5 uses of various obscenities, and one f-bomb.

  • Substance use - Alex did "shots of Jack" while contemplating her dad's gun early in the book.

  • Religion - The leader of the enclave Rule is a Reverend, and a real fanatic type, explaining their situation as a fulfillment of the book of Revelation, the Changed as bearing the mark of Cain, and themselves as the Guardians of Righteousness. Alex has considered faith and God irrelevant since the death of her parents and the diagnosis of her tumor.

Discover Alex's fate in Shadows (Ashes Trilogy, Book 2) and Monsters (The Ashes Trilogy Book 3).

You can read interviews with author Ilsa Bick about Ashes at: