@ Scattered Figments
When I first picked up this book I did so because I'd seen a few good reviews of it around and about and I was enjoying the fab little trend of dystopian fiction that is still running its course in YA at the moment. However, my hopes weren't huge because I'm one of those despicable human beings who judges books by their covers. This cover was just a bit...is “80s” the right term?...for me.
Well give me a sturdy slap on the wrist, I must learn to obey old clichés as this was a book that I should not have judged by its cover. And I should not have expected it to fit into the sometimes (though not always) sanguine niche that YA can be. Don't bite, I said it can be!
For me, Ashes was a book that provided plenty of the darkness and grit that its title suggested. When an EMP causes all electronics to faulter and also interferes with the teeny tiny electrical pulses in the brains of humans, a whole heap of...poop...hits the fan! Only the very young and very old survive intact...save for a few exceptions such as Alex, the protagonist. Others survive, but as maddened inhumane creatures, similar to the "sickos" in Charlie Higson's The Enemy series, or the raging "infected" in 28 Days Later.
The idea of the masses succumbing to a force that leaves them insane and blood thirsty is not new. The dystopian premise of technology falling down around our ears is not new either. So what about this book made me love it as much as I did? It was a combination of things really. I loved Alex as the protagonist. She goes to the mountains to bury her past and to admit that, due to a brain tumor, she has no future. Instead it is her tumor and the treatments she's had for it that saves her from the EMP and allows her to begin her story. These are things you find out in the first pages so I don't think I'm spoiling anything for you.
I'm thoroughly looking forward to the sequel to this (already on my Goodreads Wishlist) and finding out how Bick tortures her protagonist further.
This was a really touching story. Connor was a great lad and his situation was heartbreaking. His mother, who battles cancer throughout the narrative, was a brave and touching character. Connor's grandmother seemed cold and cruel at times, but was simply a woman trying to remain strong in the face of the inevitability that she would soon have to bury her daughter. Ness subverts expectations with this narrative. He highlights the often sad conclusions of so many real-life narratives, a theme that is all the more poignant given Siobhan Dowd's own untimely death due to breast cancer.
The eponymous Monster of the book was also a subversion of common conceptions. He wasn't scary in a conventional way. Even Connor wasn't scared of him at first. He didn't eat babies or terrorise villagers. He was scary because he made Connor face up to the unfairness of reality and made him see how frightening the truth can be. Sometimes the scariest thing about tragedy is how happy it can make us when it's over...
I enjoyed the tales told by the Monster as I've always enjoyed the sometimes dark-morality of fairy tales. Ness' monster captured this tone and atmosphere superbly. Yesterday I mentioned Stephen King's knack for capturing the perfect tone for dark bedtime stories and I have to repeat this praise for Ness today!
Overall, this was a moving story. It is impressive that such a short tale can have such depth and beauty, and it is also impossible to forget the circumstances that saw it being written. However, great stories live for a long time. It is a touching tribute to the imagination of a strong writer that this tale was given life by the incredible Patrick Ness. His skills breathed life into a tale that might have otherwise been left to dust.
I loved Christian Cage, the first-person protagonist of Draw The Dark. And I adored the narration by Joshua Swanson. Seriously... that guy's got a voice that makes you feel all tingly and warm. I don;t often choose books based upon narrators, but I'll be keeping my eyes open for more books read by him. But anyway, back to the protagonist! The first person narrative really allows the audience to get inside Christian's head. He sees his flaws and puts them under the microscope while Bick's writing allows us to see how many of his flaws are forgiveable sins. That takes some seriously good writing.
The semi-love-interest of the book was the only aspect of the book which irritated me. I couldn't warm to her as she seemed to lack empathy for Christian's plight. She was shallow and irritating. But then... she was a seventeen year old girl. I'm not saying all seventeen year old girls are shallow and irritating. What I'm trying to say is that she wasn't this perfect, smart, beautiful-without-knowing-it, Bella Swan type! She was kind of annoying at times, but she really did seem to want to do the best by Christian.
The premise of the book was one which I didn't think I'd be able to engage with. I'm not really that "in to" the cold case sort of mystery explored in the novel. I am a big fan of the "otherworld" idea. Again, Bick's writing drew me in (...he he he..."drew"...). I was fascinated by Christian's narrative and was honestly gripped by the story.
Some of the psychology discussed in the book made me wonder about Ashes. There's a passage where brainwaves and sleep are discussed and I wondered as I was listening if I might have been listening to the light-bulb moment for that book's creation. I like that sort of inter-connectivity of books, (like the intertextuality of King's work. See, another similarity).
Overall, I loved this book. I'm going to hold back half a star because I can't see any mention of a sequel anywhere and I bloody well want one!
I loved this book, loved the really unusual concept and particularly loved the talking dog! Sounds weird but I was so immersed in the characters that I hardly noticed when it went from mildly amusing and pleasant to listen to...to upsetting and perilous. Very well written and totally unique. One line at the beginning,..."you'd think it would be good having a talking dog but it turns out they don't say many interesting things" and then the dog says, "poo, Todd, need a poo" made me laugh so much! It gets much, much deeper, I assure you and you will fall in love with some of the characters.