I am so over zombie books.

At least I thought I was until I picked up Ilsa J. Bick’s Ashes.

At the beginning of this young adult novel we meet Alex who has a brain tumor and has been given 6 months to live. She’s an avid hiker and decides to go on a last hike to make peace with her impending death. She goes well prepared. I’m talking SURVIVALISM prepared. You throw me out in the woods and I wouldn’t survive more than five minutes unless you gave me a book to read.

Alex is settling down to camp when an older man and an 8-year-old girl come out of the forest. She is cautious (with good reason….anyone remember  the movie Deliverance and what a fun camping trip that was?). Alex listens to the man’s story, how he and his granddaughter Ellie have been hiking with their German Sheppard, Thor. The granddaughter has a gigantic chip on her shoulder (deservedly so since her father was killed in Afghanistan) and mouths off, sounding more like a bitter 40-year-old instead of an 8-year-old kid.

And this is where it gets interesting.

There is a humming in the air, a vibrating, pulsating noise.

Ellie’s grandfather goes into convulsions, blood bursting from his nose. Thor, the dog, also goes into convulsions. A terrifying sound flattens Alex to the ground. An EMP, electromagnetic pulse, destroys everything: electronics, digital watches, iPods, power grids. The world’s population is decimated but Alex, Ellie and Thor survive the EMP, although Thor goes a little nuts and acts like he is reenacting every scene from the movie Cujo. The survivors go in search of other people and answers as to what happened.

This is where the zombies come in. And not just any zombies but some of the best zombies I have ever come across.  Each survivor has been affected differently by the EMP: some have supernatural abilities, some are just plain lucky that they lived through it, and then there are those called The Changed. The Changed live to hunt the living. Forget about zombies lusting after brains, these zombies rip into any flesh they can find.

Along the way Alex and Ellie meet up with Tom, a soldier home on leave from serving in the Middle East. He has some demons of his own to exorcise. They form a weary group of survivors whose motto could be “If we survive the night…well, it’s just good that we survived the night.”

A lot of crazy stuff happens, things I didn’t see coming and I’m not going to ruin anything for you. Suffice it to say these zombies are fast and clever. Alex is one tough 17-year-old girl. I found myself thinking if I had to face an apocalypse I would want her on my team because if I was one of the Changed I’d live in terror of her abilities. But I might leave the 8-year-old brat behind.

This book is for anyone who is tired of the usual zombie and sparkly vampire books and wants a book with a meaty plot. But watch out for those zombies because I hear they like meat.


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