First, let me say that Monsters, the final book in the Ashes trilogy by Ilsa J. Bick is a true monster of a book at 671 pages. Normally it would thrill me that one of my favorite book series, and the last one, is nice and thick full of juicy action and characterization. A friend of mine who doesn’t like zombie books or anything gory has read the first book, Ashes, based on how highly I rated it on Goodreads. Now I feel a little responsible for the time she has invested because frankly I found Monsters to be inferior to the first two books.
One of the reasons the book is so lengthy is that the finale to the story is told in the voice many different characters. I don’t mind the technique of switching between narrators as it creates variety and allows for deeper characterization. There are too many books that only focus on the one or two main characters and the rest are on the periphery, too often used to move the action or story along and not developed with the same thoroughness. I also find this technique interesting in the way it can give a different perspective on the action because the same people can have different reactions and views of an event, just look at how witnesses to a crime have been known to give disparate descriptions, times, etc.
The problem with the way the technique is used here is that Bick is giving almost every character a voice. It gets confusing, sort of like being in a room where everyone is talking at once. Also, it might have been less disorienting to have each character narrate a few chapters in a row before switching to another character. Instead, every chapter alternates and it takes a lot of focus to keep up with everything. This also means that there are several chapters to wade through before the narrative circles back again to the strongest character, Alex. In fact, I find it strange that the focus of this final book is really on Chris and Peter. I do find Chris to be a fairly strong character, though Peter was not a very fleshed out character until now. I just think that this being the last chance to experience these characters, that the focus needs to be on Alex, and Tom too as he was part of things from the beginning. The other character I would have chosen to spend more time on is Wolf. Granted, the fact that he is a changed and can’t speak would seem to be a hindrance in having some chapters be based around him, but actually that could have been an interesting exercise, show events from the point of view of a Changed since we really don’t know how they think or feel. That’s what makes the Changed different than zombies in other books, most zombies are mindless creatures that only focus on hunger and don’t appear to think, have the ability to open doors, use weapons, etc. which is very different from the Changed in the Ashes trilogy. Therefore, it stands to reason that it would be possible to tell some of the story from Wolf’s perspective and I think that would be very satisfying for readers to learn more about him in this final book.
The other danger with the way the story is laid out is that the author then has to come up with a plausible way to tie all the characters and the action back together for the climax of the story, some of which felt too coincidental. At one point I felt like I needed to check a character key as I started getting certain characters mixed up. Even the author appears to be aware of how confusing the shuffling narrative is as she has added a character key to the back that I don’t recall being in the earlier books. It seems to me if you put a key like that in, you know there’s a problem, and wouldn’t it be better to rewrite the book in a way where a key would not be necessary?
Lest it sound like I completely hate this book, I don’t, I am just disappointed because after reading the first two I had high expectations. I still love Alex’s spirit and the way her tumor is characterized as a monster, one wonder if the title refers more to that, the Changed as monsters, or humans like Finn as the monsters?
There is also plenty of action, though maybe too much? With some of the major characters getting seriously wounded in these action scenes it stretches credulity to think that they are quickly back on their feet and able to fight in further scenes. Most of all, I disliked the ending intensely. The way it was written made think there was actually another book coming, but since everything I have found refers to this as a trilogy, it seems not. Yes, I am sure some will argue that such an ending lets the reader imagine, blah blah blah, but to me it left a whole new possibility for a continued story and really wrecked the whole Tom is the hero thing. Curious what others think….