Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Monsters by Ilsa J Bick #review

Title: Monsters (Book #3 of The Ashes Trilogy)
Author: Ilsa J Bick
Publisher: Quercus, 2013

While having read the preceding books in this trilogy may not be essential, as author Ilsa J Bick does provide character details in the front- and back-matter, this hefty tome as a standalone might prove daunting. We are presented with a large cast of characters, who have a lot of history behind them. Primarily, we follow the story arcs of Alex, who lives with a brain tumour; Chris, who’s got a bit of a thing for Alex; and Tom, an ex-soldier, who also has a bit of a thing for Alex. Herein lies the now almost standard love triangle in young adult fiction.

In addition to this trio, we also get glimpses of other viewpoints via the plucky little Ellie and the tragic Peter, among many others. This large cast of names and relationships is confusing at first, especially as Bick kicks off the novel with Alex’s near-drowning and dramatic rescue in a rapidly flooding mine. There’s no easing into things.

The story is as follows: A few months previous to the events in Monsters, there was a mysterious event referred to as the “Zap”. At the same time, most youngsters developed zombie-like tendencies to eat people. Cue the zombiepocalypse, and the few survivors embroiled in a desperate bid to remain uneaten and to make a life for themselves after the lights have gone out.

As if the existing Changed weren’t bad enough, Bick now introduces freaky evolved Changed, that seem to be under the control of someone who doesn’t have the Spared’s, as the survivors are known, best interests at heart.

Monsters is an ambitious work. The story might not appeal to squeamish readers as it often sinks into an orgy of violence and cannibalism that makes William Golding’s Lord of the Flies as tame as a Disney cartoon. The overarching narrative is also not easy to follow – chapters are short, often end with cliffhangers, and shift from character points of view at a dizzying frequency. Also, by the end, I was hoping for some revelation as to what caused the “Zap”, as well as the Changed, and I suppose I’ll have to keep wondering. It would have been nice to understand why the Changed had some of the characteristics that they did.

Granted, Monsters is filled with plenty of action which does build to a tension-filled conclusion, but getting there exhausted me, most likely due to having to familiarise myself with all the plot arcs and names. There is a lot going on – and you’re advised to read the entire series to get the most value out of this epic.

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