A guest review by Jenre
A compelling but ultimately very bleak book which continues the story of Callum and David from A Strong and Sudden Thaw.
This review contains what could be considered spoilers
The world after the Ice remains a dangerous place. Callum and David have survived the dragons but rebuilding lives is no easy task. When the army comes to their town to enforce an evacuation, Callum is supicious about their claims of tainted groundwater and radiation. David feels he must join his family in defending the town, even if rebellion means deadly force is needed. Tragedy strikes when the Brethren, a crazed religious order, seeks to control the new world through not only preaching intolerance but forced conversion and torture as well. Can the love between these young men withstand not only distance but betrayal?
Out of the Ashes is a sequel to the superlative A Strong and Sudden Thaw, a book which I love with a passion and was one of my favourite reads of last year. It was reviewed by Kris at this site here and given 4.5 stars but my personal rating is as a 5+ star DIK read. I’ve been eagerly awaiting the sequel to ASAST, because there were several loose ends which I hoped would be tidied, plus I wanted more of Callum and David. Having now read the book, I have to admit that Out of the Ashes was a very difficult read for me, despite being incredibly well written and moving on occasion, for reasons I shall now attempt to explain.
The book begins as the last book finished. Many of the townsfolk of Moline, Virginia have moved on after the threat of eviction by force from the town. Those who are left are determined to stand up to the army which is heading their way, and David is made part of the small band of renegades who are to fight, much to the disappointment of Callum. Things don’t go well for the town, and after a brief but horrific skirmish the townsfolk, along with Callum are taken north to a refugee camp. David hopes to follow, but is picked up by a band of travelling actors who lead him further away from Callum both physically and emotionally as David finds solace in the arms of an older man.
One of the things I liked a great deal about the previous book was the intricate world-building and strong setting. Once again that did not disappoint in this book, although there was less opportunity for the sweeping descriptions of the previous book. Here the beauty of the world-building is in the details: The clothes that David wears; the descriptions of Washington DC and how they cope with the extreme cold; and the contrast between the opulence that David experiences and the extreme conditions forced on Callum. Another thing that worked well was a change in the narrative structure. The previous book was from David’s first person point of view, which continues in this book, but we also get Callum’s view through his journal. The two narratives alternate which I found even more chilling as the contrast between their lives seems greater when laid side by side as it is. Finally, and perhaps my greatest enjoyment of the book was seeing how Callum progresses as a character. In the previous book Callum was a weak man, tossed about by fate and annoyingly passive at times. Here Callum begins to strike out and fight against the situation he finds himself in. This is seen almost at the start as he deceives David and saves David’s life, but also when he is trapped in the camp and struggles against the system to bring much needed medicine and supplies to those who need them. I was proud of Callam and rejoiced in his bravery, and his determination not to give in, even during the worst of his confinement.
Having said all that, this was still an incredibly tough read for me. It was bleak, very bleak. The book begins as it means to go on with a number of pointless, tragic deaths. As the book progresses we encounter more deaths, torture, imprisonment, dubious consent, and long periods where it appears that there is no hope for our heroes, especially Callum. At several points in the book I wondered whether I could carry on with it, but the prose was so excellent and the story so compelling I couldn’t put it down. You could argue that the previous book was also quite bleak, but I felt that book was saved from being too overwhelming by the developing relationship and love between David and Callum, and as they spend most of this book apart, that wasn’t the case here. Part of my difficulty also stemmed from the fact that I generally dislike books where the balance of power is too much with the villains. As the villains in this book are government officials, religious leaders and army commanders and the heroes are common men with no power whatsoever, I became increasingly frustrated and annoyed at the helplessness of the characters – after all how can anyone fight against someone who would shoot you dead for disagreeing with them? I found my blood pressure rising and the whole experience quite stressful.
Another part that didn’t work so well for me was in the development of David as a character. I really liked David in the previous book, but his relationship with Sterling puzzled me because I never really understood David’s attraction for him, and therefore why he should take such great risks on his behalf. There were also other inconsistencies which bothered me, especially to do with the way he handles loss and grief. He barely mourns when he learns of the deaths of people he has loved all his life, and yet he rages to the sky at the death of someone he has known only a few months. This just did not seem to fit the young man I fell in love with in the first book.
Let me reassure you that there is a HEA to this book, although it comes very close to the end of the book and feels a little forced after all that has come before. There is also scope for a sequel, or even a spin off should the author decide to write one. If not, the ending still works as a conclusion to the duology.
Those of you who loved ASAST will probably want to read this one as well, in fact I recommend that you read the first book before this or you won’t really understand what is happening here. Be warned though, I found this to be a tough read, despite the excellent prose and compelling storyline. I’ve wavered over the grade for days and finally settled on a 4, because this is anything but an average read, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to re-read Out of the Ashes as it was too emotionally fraught and frustrating and I don’t think I can put myself through that again.