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. Author Ilsa J. Bick crafts a terrifying and thrilling novel about a world that could be ours at any moment, where those left standing must learn what it means not just to survive, but to live amidst the devastation.
"For fans of postapocalyptic and horror fiction, Bick has created a story of equal parts intrigue and gore…Katherine Kellgren narrates the tension-filled action at a lightning pace…The author’s frenetic characterization of Alex is tempered by Kellgren’s ability to draw the listener into each scene." (Audiofile) 2012 Audie Award Nominee, Female Solo Narration
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As has been said before, One Second After this is not. That doesn't have to be a bad thing. Unfortunately, much of the promise of this adventure story is hampered, in my humble opinion, by its characters.
Alex is definitely not one of my favorite protagonists. Like many central players in young adult epics, her decision-making process seems consistently limited by the presence of a male character for whom she may or may not have feelings. Obviously, such entanglements are often involved in choosing one course of action or another, but much of this narrative seems driven solely by how Alex feels about a boy. This is a real shame since, as other reviewers have pointed out, Alex puts herself forward early on as a motivated, clever young woman capable of surviving on her own.
Having just come off Pure, where the bombs that ended the world as we knew it fused people to whatever or whoever they were in contact with at the time of the blast, Ashes's premise of selective effects from exposure to EMP doesn't seem quite as out there. If you liked One Second After, Alas Babylon, The Postman or the like and are expecting a modern YA equivalent though, I'd advise you to pack a few extra doses of suspension of disbelief.
Katherine Kellgren's performance seems to be a rather divisive point among reviews. I can understand why, as she engages in what one hires Katherine Kellgren to do, putting distinctive, colorful voices to each character and playing up the action. This means an eight year old girl sounding annoying, will sound annoying. Events that happen quickly, will be read quickly. This style can be jarring if you're not used to it, but she's developed a fair bit of critical praise for good reason I think. In short, I found nothing wrong with it and found it a reason to keep going on more than one occasion when I'd begun to have second thoughts about the book.
And the thing of it is, I actually got into the story. I wanted to know what happened to the characters, even though I didn't necessarily like any of them very much. And of course, the cliffhanger ending was such a surprise that I really have no choice but to continue; any criticisms aside, the author deserves a heap of praise for the last ten minutes.
So are there better stories out there? Sure! But there are certainly many I'd call worse. If you're into the setting, I'd say go for it.
Cons first: this is a YA novel (strike one) about zombies (strike two) with a female protagonist who goes mushy over not one but two hot boys (strike three).
If I'd known all these things beforehand (especially #3), I probably would not have selected this audiobook, so it's a good thing sometimes I get pleasantly surprised.
(Incidentally, I do not hate either YA or zombie novels — quite the contrary — it's just that so much of it is awful and derivative that my expectations tend to be low going in.)
Ashes isn't as good as Mira Grant's "Newsflesh" trilogy, but it's still a pretty good zombie tale with a teenage girl protagonist who is, yes (sigh) what you might inevitably call "feisty," but she actually earns the moniker, being pretty smart and having some good survival skills and common sense.
I just wish she spent more time thinking survival and less time thinking "Does he or doesn't he?"
Alex is in the mountains thinking about killing herself when a massive series of EMPs takes out civilization. She's thinking about killing herself because she has an incurable brain tumor. So this is one of those books where having normally fatal medical conditions turns out to be an advantage when a giant EMP fries everyone else's brain but gives Alex super-smelling. Actually, it fries the brains of teenagers, turning them into the Changed — yup, zombies. Yes, this is one of those books where zombies represent something else (if ya wanna get all lit-crit on a YA zombie novel), in this case, fear of kids on your lawn. Who want to eat you. It's mostly old people left after the pulse, shooting those darn kids.
Alex is one of the rare teens who doesn't Change. She meets up with a young soldier on leave named Tom, who also hasn't Changed, and a little girl named Ellie. The three of them set off on a trek across the wilds, and of course run into both zombies and the usual assortment of human survivors who turn out to be as bad as zombies. Alex is separated from Tom and Ellie, and winds up in a town called Rule full of nice pleasant folks who are kind of like Mormons/Amish but not. Yes, one of those towns. Creepy vibes right from the start, even before Alex begins unraveling the truths behind Rule. Besides Hot Boy #2 there are several Big Reveals, the last of which is left until the last page because of course this is the first book in a trilogy.
Notwithstanding the predictable tropes and several eye-rolling moments, this was a pretty good listen with a few somewhat novel twists. Ilsa Blick's writing was decent, and I enjoyed the story (and found the loose ends aggravating) enough to want to read book two.
3.5 stars, which I will round up because I'm feeling generous and because I actually intend to continue the series, which is becoming less common for me nowadays.
A lot of reviewers have commented on Katherine Kellgren's narration. She seems to be quite polarizing. So yes, she reads the action scenes in a rapid, almost breathless tone of voice, she screams when the characters scream, and since unfortunately one of the characters for the first half of the book is an incredibly bratty nine-year-old, that means you get a lot of whiiiiiining and YELLING and carrying on, because Kellgren reads Ellie's parts just like how a bratty, terrified, angry nine-year-old would sound.
Once I got used to it, it did not bother me. If you are used to audiobooks where the narrators tend to keep a fairly even tone of voice even while reading the loud action sequences and don't pitch their voices to match those of panicky, emotional character, then Kellgren's reading may seem overly dramatic, but she is never unclear and her voice fits the parts she's reading. While I'm not sure I'd choose Katherine Kellgren to read a Jane Austen novel, she seems just fine for a zombie apocalypse.