Received from publisher for review
Lucy's been on her own in the wilderness of Central Park since the plague wiped out her entire family and almost the entire human population. Now, she just tries to survive day to day, braving unpredictable weather and rabid dogs just to stay hidden and out of reach of the Sweepers.
When a young man named Aiden comes to her rescue as she's running from a canine hunting party, she begins to remember just how much she enjoys social interaction. Deciding to join the fairly large group of people with whom Aiden has made his home, Lucy throws herself into her daily chores and the comfort of companionship.
Her brief respite is shattered however when the Sweepers repeatedly attack their camp, taking select individuals as though they are searching for something or someone in particular. When too many of their friends get taken, Lucy and Aiden decide to attempt a rescue, but what they don't realize is that's what the Sweepers have been hoping for all along since Lucy is the person they need most.
Though Ashes, Ashes presents us with a bleak outlook with regard to the physical state of our world in the future–cities and enormous groups of people decimated by disease, starvation, and forces of nature–we are also given a story lined with hope as we watch the survivors carry on in the face of so much death. First, we get to meet and watch young Lucy spend her days completing tasks we'd like to think we'd be capable of in her situation but yet are not entirely convinced the strength of our resolve would even begin to rival hers. Her commitment to survival helps bolster us against such a desolate environment, her will as a single individual against an empty and frightening world earning our respect and admiration. Then, we are also granted access to a small commune of people after our initial more solitary time with Lucy, able to bear witness to not just the strength of one human being but of humanity as a whole. Where there was a lone survivor before there now stand many, and reading as Lucy starts to recall what it's like to have family lets light filter into the gray and black of a once vibrant city.
Lucy is an incredibly strong young woman, fighting each day to live in a world that could so easily kill her either through an outright attack or by denying her the things she needs to make it through each day. We get brief flashes back to her life before the plague, these little snippets letting us know there's something of great importance about a girl who's been the one out of every 999,999 to live. Her relationship with Aiden is sweet though not overly emotional; their moments together providing a nice warmth but not necessarily setting us on fire or branding us with the memory of their time together. This is a story that seems a bit stronger in plot than in characterization, our connection to any of the characters more superficial reactions to the tragedy of their circumstance than deep-rooted and gut-wrenching attachment, but we are certainly involved in their lives and concerned for their future nonetheless.
While the survival element of this tale is thoroughly engrossing, the Sweepers themselves and the events surrounding the final showdown with them present just a few minor drawbacks. It becomes glaringly obvious to us at the end, once we learn how vital Lucy is to the continuation of humanity should the plague ever mutate and return, that the end goal of finding a cure has become paramount to the doctor in charge of the Sweepers, and the means by which she achieves that goal are irrelevant provided progress is made. Because of this, we think we're going to have a major confrontation between Lucy and a woman who feels science is more important than a handful of human lives no matter how few of them remain, yet she escapes fairly easily and returns home with Aiden seemingly unworried about any future attacks even knowing her importance to the doctor's research.
Additionally, the doctor and her team are extraordinarily well-stocked with food and supplies while everyone else has resorted to primitive hunting and gathering methods, and we are given no explanation as to how they are maintaining their quality of life and receiving shipments of food and medical equipment. Overall, the buildup to the conclusion is well done and keeps us glued to the pages, the events at the end just seem to get resolved with more ease than we are expecting given the fanatical nature of the doctor, and we are left just a little off-kilter as we wonder if she really is going to let Lucy go with so little fight.