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Goat Heads and Sand Burrs, P. Kirby's Reading Blog

The good, bad, and fugly books I've read.
Shadows (Ashes Trilogy, #2) - Ilsa J. Bick

Holy shit, Batman, this book was gory.

And I say that with a kind of respectful awe, as someone who has dabbled in horror writing and grew up on a steady diet of Stephen King, et al. But Shadows, the follow up to Bick's Ashes, is not for those with delicate constitutions.

For me, the novel's penchant for gore and the well-researched, accurate descriptions of everything from mining and geology to guns and explosives, made for a satisfying read. Shadows is the kind of gritty that leaves grit between your teeth (and possibly some gristle).

Following the misadventures of Ashes' primary protagonists -- Alex, Tom and Chris -- as well as a whole new crop of players, the narrative drops the characters out of the frying pan, into the fire, then back into the pan, over and over. The midsection of the story literally cuts back and forth between a few POV characters as their experiences get more and more harrowing and...bloodier.

This is where, for my benefit (when I go back and read this later), I usually sum up the premise. Here, however, is where I note the difficulty in doing so, because Shadows quite literally drops the reader in media res, into the politics and intrigue of the little village of Rule, where Alex was living before being dumped unceremoniously on the village's outskirts, to be eaten by the Changed (bloodthirsty twees and teens, whose brains have been scrambled by the EMP that fucked up the world).

Having read Ashes more than a year ago, I was admittedly baffled by some of the machinations that went on between Chris, Lena, Peter (the younger generation) and the old farts who run Rule. Honestly? I still don't quite get what's going on. Basically, there's a power struggle taking place, largely between the oldsters, who find the young people convenient pawns in their games. (Pretty much a mirror of real life. I mean, who starts the wars? Old men. Who fights them? Young men.)

Setting: Dystopic U.S. where a huge EMP (Pulse) has fried all the stuff that makes life comfy and fun, and killed off all the population between thirty-ish and fifty, leaving either the geriatric or the very young. And, most of the young -- twees, teens and early twenty-somethings -- have devolved into zombie-like loonies with a taste for "yoo-man." A big chunk of the plot is centered around the village of a Rule, outwardly, a bastion of civilization in the sea of savagery that transpires after the Pulse. Oh, and it's winter in the Great Lakes region and fucking cold.

Alex is captured by a band of Changed and finds herself part of a herd of humans, kept as food for her cannibalistic captors. Tom, badly wounded when Ashes ended, has been rescued by an elderly man and his wife and is about to set out again to find Alex. His path eventually intersects with one of Rule's geriatric set who is all too happy to use Tom's knowledge of explosives for his own ends. Chris and Lena end up on the run from the powers that be at Rule, following uh, whatever happened in Ashes (I think he tried to save Alex, somehow). Peter, Chris's friend and mentor, is ambushed on a supply run, and taken prisoner by the AARP's version of Joseph Mengele, a psycho who is experimenting on the Changed and Spared (young people who haven't turned into flesh-eating psychos).

Ellie, the TSTL young girl, is absent in this installment and that's okay with me.

Since the politics confused me, I payed more attention to the interesting dynamics going on with the Changed, who, though initially portrayed as mindless, eating machines, with an insatiable hunger for people, now appear to be capable of building a form of culture and even communicating, possibly through telepathy. So...not just cannibals who want to eat you alive, but cannibals with the capacity for analytical thoughts and strategy. Then there's the possibility that even the Spared are eventually destined to Change.

Even though the politics had me more confused than a chameleon in a bag of Skittles, the blood, gore, and wall-to-wall action kept me up late reading this sucker. Readers expecting any resolution, any at all, in the storyline, however, will be very disappointed. Once more, the story ends with the protagonist's feet dangling off a cliff.