Shadows by Ilsa Bick

Shadows by Ilsa J. Bick is a better book than the first in the series, Ashes (my review), (if you have not read the first book, beware of spoilers in this review) as the writing is more descriptive and less reliant on the cliffhanger factor for each chapter than it was in the first book.  An EMP blast has caused much of the human race to change, leaving the elderly to rethink their lives and focus on the best survival plan they have.  Meanwhile, the young are scared that they will change into flesh-eating monsters like so many others and struggle to keep away from bounty hunters and others who would use the Spared for their own nefarious gains.

Alex, Chris, and others are thrown into a whirlwind fight for their lives as they are separated and sent on their own journeys where they will uncover the truth and learn more about the Changed than they ever expected.  Unlike the first book where readers follow Alex’s point of view for most of the novel, Shadows is made up of more than just some of the main characters’ points of view from the first book, but several others.  At first this can be disconcerting given that the chapters move quickly are immersed in nearly constant action and are very short in some cases.  However, once the reader adjusts to the constant shifts in POV, they are swept up in the action and the chase — and in some cases, merely speeding through certain aspects of the 500+ page book to get to the story lines they really want to uncover.

Oh God, help me, please, help me.  Alex felt her mind begin to slip, as if the world was ice and begun to tilt and she was going to slide right off and fall away into forever if she didn’t hang on tight.  Her heart was trying to blast right out of her chest.  She was shaking all over, the hay hook in its belt loop bouncing against her right thigh.  The pyramid, row after row of skills, loomed at her back:  all that remained of those who’d stumbled into this filling field before her.  And of course, there was the smell — that familiar reek of roadkill and boiled sewage.”  (page 21)

Minus a prologue in the beginning, the novel takes off right where Alex was left in the last book.  And readers who were looking for more horror and death than they got in the last book will get their just desserts here, with a little nasty sex thrown in for good measure.  It’s hard to believe this is a young adult novel, and readers should beware that this is a novel for older teens, rather than younger readers.  Bick’s writing is much improved over the last novel, and it helps to garner readers’ emotions and attachments to the characters of Alex and Tom.  However, there are still so many unanswered questions from the last book that are left unanswered.  Not only that, more questions and riddles are raised and left unanswered in this novel.  Bick is treading a fine line here, and unless the final novel in the series addresses a great number of these questions and mysteries, readers could be disappointed.

Shadows by Ilsa J. Bick is an adrenaline rush that pushes readers to not only think about the heat of combat and the survival skills they would need in a post-apocalyptic world, but also about the concept of trust and family.  When is our best efforts to save those we love and help them enough and when is it time to let go and move on?  Do you trust those who are nicest to you or do you still treat them with a degree of suspicion?  For Alex and Tom, there is never enough effort, and a healthy dose of suspicion is what keeps you alive.  The horrifying aspects of this novel are likely to turn off some readers, while attract others, but there are deeper themes at work here, and it is clear that Bick is attempting to tell a story that pays homage to those soldiers racked with guilt and still living daily nightmares of war.

About the Author:

Ilsa J. Bick is an award-winning, best-selling author of short stories, e-books and novels. She has written for several long-running science fiction series, most notably Star Trek, Battletech, and Mechwarrior:Dark Age. She’s taken both Grand and Second Prize in the Strange New Worlds anthology series (1999 and 2001, respectively), while her story, “The Quality of Wetness,” took Second Prize in the prestigious Writers of the Future contest in 2000. Her first Star Trek novel, Well of Souls, was a 2003 Barnes & Noble bestseller.

What the Eclectic Bookworms Thought (BEWARE of SPOILERS):

Shadows by Ilsa Bick was the book club selection for February.  With the multiple perspectives in this book, the members expressed a hard time following all of them and/or whether all of them were necessary.  While some preferred to keep the perspectives to a manageable number, another observation was that with Alex, the main protagonist, in a different area and experiencing things outside of Rule, it would have been difficult to keep the book from only her perspective.  The gore did not bother most members, which made the second book in the series read more like horror and less like science fiction or fantasy; some were taken aback by the sexual chapter, with the youngest member of the group not reading those sections at all.

The member who nominated Shadows was angry that the book left readers hanging about the fate of some characters, but it was pointed out that cliffhangers are often the case in second books when a third book is planned.  One member really enjoys Alex as a character, while two others pointed to Tom as their favorite.  Meanwhile, the group members all speculated about where the third book would go with most of us agreeing there would be a battle between Rule and the other Amish-like society mentioned, as well as a possible three-way dual between Chris, Wolf, and Tom or at least Chris and Tom in a sort of romantic gesture to win Alex’s affections.

The group seemed split on whether the overall reason would be explained for why some kids changed into cannibals and some did not.  We’ve speculated that the brain chemistry of the changed had been closer to normal levels than those that did not change, though Lena — one of the characters pointed out as most annoying — seems to have fallen in the camp of the changed with this book.  Overall, it seemed as though at least two members liked the second book in the series more than the first, while three or four members liked it even less with a couple people giving it one star.  Two members were not interested at all in reading the third installment, while two expressed an interest in one member reading it and telling the rest of us what happens, and a few others considering the option of reading the third book.

Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick

Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick is part one in a trilogy of dystopian young adult books in which an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) wipes out all electronics, including pacemakers and other devices inside people’s bodies.  Alex is a 17-year-old girl with a brain tumor, who also has lost her parents in a horrific accident and has undergone numerous traditional radiation and experimental treatments.  She decides to leave her Aunt Hannah’s house near Northwestern University and head to the Waucamaw Wilderness of Michigan to determine what to do next — whether to go on fighting the tumor or move on.

While in the woods, she meets Ellie, her grandfather, and their dog Mina.  The 8-year-old Ellie is sarcastic and bit angry since her father’s passing in Iraq, but when the EMP hits, the only one left to rely on is a stranger and her dog, a dog that reminds her of all she’s lost.  Granted, she has a right to be angry and sad, but she whines just a bit too much and readers may find that they would be glad if Alex were to ditch her in the woods alone.

“The buzz on the plane faded and the quiet descended again like a bell jar over the forest.”  (Page 13)

Bick’s writing is suspenseful and clear, but the end of each chapter reads like a cliffhanger.  After 30 chapters, readers will be singing the equivalent of DUN DUN DUN.  Not every chapter ending needs to be this dramatic especially when there are no major plot twists revealed.  In addition to the EMP and the dramatic chapter endings, Bick introduces the Changed (aka the zombies/cannibals), those who survived the EMP, but turned primal and become cannibals.  This being a trilogy, there was no explanation of what changed these people into cannibals, nor why some kids, like Alex, Ellie, and Tom, do not change.

“She didn’t know if the tightness in her throat or the fullness in her heart meant that he was there; that they were connected somehow.  Maybe all that she saw and felt was the sensual fullness of memory:  that which abided and was nothing but the ghost of a touch, the whisper of a word, the lingering of a scent.”  (Page 374)

Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick is an action packed novel that reads like horror with all the graphic details about the killings and eating, but what it lacks is a cohesive story.  In one half of the book, Alex seems like a strong young lady interested in taking charge, but in the latter half of the book, she becomes mush.  Once in Rule, she no longer physically tries to fight or escape her captors once they’ve set her up in a house and she begins work in the hospice, and of course, meets a kind boy her own age.  The novel becomes less about the EMP and the zombies than it is about the cult-like settlement of Rule in which surviving women are passed off like chattle and are only good for propagating the species.  In many ways, it is like the author could not decide what story to tell, and whether the character was to be strong and a main catalyst or merely a weak pawn in a larger chess board.  At more than 400 pages, readers may find that editing could have compacted the story more and maybe the plot could have been tied up a little better, with fewer loose ends — even for a trilogy this has too many.  However, if you are looking for something entertaining and fast-paced, this is for you.

About the Author:

Ilsa J. Bick is an award-winning, best-selling author of short stories, e-books and novels. She has written for several long-running science fiction series, most notably Star Trek, Battletech, and Mechwarrior:Dark Age. She’s taken both Grand and Second Prize in the Strange New Worlds anthology series (1999 and 2001, respectively), while her story, “The Quality of Wetness,” took Second Prize in the prestigious Writers of the Future contest in 2000. Her first Star Trek novel, Well of Souls, was a 2003 Barnes & Noble bestseller.


This is my 62nd book for the New Authors Reading Challenge 2012.


Book Club Thoughts (Beware of Spoilers):

This selection was from one of the male members in the group who reads a great deal of young adult dystopian fiction.

Most members enjoyed the book for what it was, a fast-paced thrilling dystopian novel, but two of us disliked it because the zombies were implausible and the main character was too weak by the end.  One member said that the portion of the book in Rule was “bungled.”  While I felt that Chris in Rule was a cardboard cutout of a “good guy,” one other member liked him more than Tom, the earlier love interest for Alex.  The youngest member of the group hopes that Tom is still alive in book two, Shadows, because as of now, his fate is unknown.

Most of us agreed that should the world end as we know it that a marshal law would be necessary to keep people civil to one another and that controlling information — even about super senses — is an essential part of that.  However, I disagreed that Alex would have become as complacent as she did and merely though about squirreling away supplies; I wanted more from her — maybe more recon or attempting to find out how the town of Rule operated and why.  The information that she does glean is told to her by some rather chatty members of the town, and she learns the information with little effort on her part or very little help from her super smell.

In the final cliffhanger of the book, Alex learns that the town of Rule has been feeding the teen cannibals, but she doesn’t know why.  One of our female members suggested that maybe the teen cannibals were once some of the town’s own children that became the Changed and the members could not bring themselves to kill their own kids.  Another member said that feeding the enemy is incredibly stupid and that the town should be cutting off the food supply; at this point the town is merely aiding in their own doom.  There also are quite a few loose ends in the book that some of us noticed, and it would have been nice if some of them were tied up by the end of book one so that new mysteries could be revealed and unraveled in book two.

Five of us, which is a majority, said they would read the second book to find out what happens, but three of us were not interested in reading book two at all for a variety of reasons.  However, looks as though we’ll all be reading Shadows as it was selected from the nominations by the member who selected Ashes.

Mailbox Monday #171

Mailbox Mondays (click the icon to check out the new blog) has gone on tour since Marcia at A Girl and Her Books, formerly The Printed Page passed the torch. This month’s host is Cindy’s Love of Books.

Kristi of The Story Siren continues to sponsor her In My Mailbox meme.

Both of these memes allow bloggers to share what books they receive in the mail or through other means over the past week.

Just be warned that these posts can increase your TBR piles and wish lists.

Here’s what I received this week:

1.  Archie’s War by Marcia Williams, which I bought.

2. The Aleppo Codex by Matti Friedman, which I received from Algonquin and will be finding a new home for.

3. A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash, which I received unexpectedly from William Morrow.

4. Sacre Blue by Christopher Moore from William Morrow. I cannot tell you how excited I am to read this one!

5. Listening to Africa by Diana M. Raab from the poet.

6. Oklahoma City by Andrew Gumbel & Roger G. Charles from William Morrow unexpectedly.

7. Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick from Novel Places for Book Club.

8. Ashes by Ilsa Bick from Novel Places for Book Club.

9. The Day the World Ends by Ethan Coen from the publisher for review in April.

What did you receive?