Second Look: SHADOWS by Ilsa J. Bick

For all of us who read Ashes and were blown away/shocked/enraged/held in unrelenting suspense by the cliffhanger ending, I can happily say that Shadows provides some answers for us all. It provides many, many more questions as well, but it at least picks up where it left off and scratches the “OMG WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?!” itch.

SPOILER WARNING: As my standard disclaimer when reviewing sequels will tell you, revealing details (including the ending) of a series’ previous installments is unavoidable. You’ve been warned!

The Story: As I previously said, Shadows finds us right where the end of Ashes left off. In the months following the EMP, things have gone from bad to worse. After leaving Rule, Alex finds herself alone in the wilderness and, having just stumbled upon a ritual ground for the Changed (also known as “Chuckies”), is facing down some bad ass characters. What’s scarier, the Changed/Chuckies are evolving into something more advanced, the Spared are continually being being picked off, and others have simply gone bat-crap crazy. Ruthless bounty hunters are rounding up the Spared in exchange for supplies, and characters we thought we could trust are revealed to be loathsome traitors. And now people are discovering that the Change might not be over yet, and those that were Spared might not stay that way for long.

The Low Down:  This is an extremely hard book to review without giving away any spoilers because it has so much going on. I’d love to tell you that Tom comes riding in on a white horse, saves Alex from a horrendous Chucky-attack, and they live safely and happily with Ellie far from cannibalizing heathens. But I’d be lying if I said that.

The first thing I have to say about Shadows? RE-READ ASHES BEFORE YOU START! Or at least flip through the last few chapters. Or, better yet, go to Bick’s website, where she provides readers with a fantastic refresher. It is super important to have Ashes firm in your memory before reading Shadows. It picks up right where Ashes left off (literally. EXACTLY where it left off) without a recap or summary of the events in the previous book. Things slowly came back to me as I read the book, but I still found myself very confused in the beginning in regards to all the characters and where they left off. Trust me on this one, guys. Save yourself the trouble and read Bick’s recap.

Nextly, (today’s Made-Up-Word-of-the-Day) the gore factor is sky high in this one, folks. Be warned, oh squeamish ones. Shadows is not for the faint of, well, stomach. There’s some serious Stephen King-esque shizzle going down here. It’s been a little less than a year since I’ve read Ashes, but I’m almost certain that Ashes was not quite as gory as Shadows.

And now for the story itself. All the main characters are separated, so the chapters are told in alternating POV’s, which can add to the confusion. In the first half of Shadows, we read about Character A for a chapter, then Character B, then C, then A, then two chapters of B, three of A, one of C, and so on. (Could you follow that? Because I couldn’t either.) In the second half, the chapters still alternate, but are more consistent. I think this has both a positive and negative impact on the book. On the good side, it definitely keeps the reader invested in the story and the characters. When the chapter cuts off, you can’t wait to get through the next one so you can find out what happened. It definitely makes the pages turn quickly. However, on the other hand, it also makes things a little choppy in terms of keeping track of what is going on with each character.

We also didn’t get any more answers as to how/why any of this is happening. I realize the focus is on the after-effects of the EMP, not the cause. But Ashes introduced us to lots of mysteries and gave us nuggets of information to help solve them. There was lots of speculation as to why people changed after the EMP and who was developing super senses and why. These mysteries weren’t even discussed in Shadows, which I found disappointing because that was part of the draw for me. However, it does have it’s fair share of revealing “OMG! HOLY CRAP!” moments, which made up for the disappointment I initially felt.

One quality that never changes is Bick’s writing. It’s not just that the woman can write a good story, but the fact that she can do it so gosh darn well. Phrases like, “her thoughts were like wet watermelon seeds that kept slipping between her fingers no matter how hard she tried to hang on” and “this was a bubble in time that was no more than a gasp and as fragile as the thinnest, most perfect glass” are not just descriptive, but are beautifully crafted. Bick’s writing style is elegant and lyrical without coming off as boring or pretentious, and instead leaves the reader hanging on every word.

Extra Goodies

  • As I mentioned above, Ilsa Bick is awesome and has a link on her website titled “So You Read ASHES a Year Ago…” which give us a rundown of what you may have forgotten about Ashes. Wasn’t that nice of her?
  • Also on Bick’s website is a blog post in which she talks about why she ended both Ashes and Shadows the way she did. It’s pretty interesting, and I was eager to see what she was referring to when she discussed the ending of Shadows. (Read the post, you’ll get what I mean.)

Readability: Shadows is evenly paced and the chapter cliffhangers encourage readers to race through it. However, the writing is a little complex for young and/or reluctant readers. Like Ashes, Shadows is definitely recommended for stronger readers, both in terms of content and readability.

Content: Language is moderate (a random f-bomb or two, and a smattering of other lighter obscenities), a scene or two alluding to sex and sexual acts, and off-the-charts violence and gore.

Bottom Line: The addition of more characters and alternating chapters make Shadows a bit difficult to follow, and without a recap of Ashes, readers should refresh their memories of the first installment before reading the sequel. Though still action packed and suspenseful, Shadows seemed to fall victim to the Curse of the Sequel. That doesn’t mean I didn’t like it or won’t read book 3 (titled Monsters, to be released in 2013). It’s still an engrossing, groundbreaking series, but I wasn’t as enamored with Shadows as I was with the first book in the Ashes Trilogy.



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