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Book Review: Monsters by Ilsa J. Bick

A bolt of bright yellow light sprang from the dark. Nearly blinded by the glare, Alex squinted and would have put a hand up if she hadn’t needed both to hang on. Belatedly, she realized that the light must be for her. The Changed saw very well in the dark. She saw Wolf, his legs braced against rock, dangling from some kind of crude rope harness looped around both thighs.

Sniffed me out, just like I caught his scent earlier this morning. Came to get me. Had he tracked them all along? Possibly. The Changed followed a route, kept to a pattern. So maybe Wolf had bided his time, waiting to see if she was still alive, then planned a way to get her out. Before the Zap, when Wolf was Simon Yeager and not a monster, maybe he and his friends had done a lot of rock climbing, exploring all the ins and outs of the Rule mine.

Then she remembered: Tom. Her heart stuttered. Tom had been up there. He’d called to her, and then she’d heard shots. “Did you kill him?” She was so afraid for Tom she thought her chest would break. Was Tom lying dead in the snow because of her? “If you killed him, if you hurt him . . .”

Wolf said nothing. He couldn’t. But now that he was so close, she smelled something else in all that mist and shadow: a scent sweet and . . gentle, a light perfume of lilacs and honeysuckle. Her dad’s face suddenly flickered in a quick flashbulb of memory: Jump to me, sweetheart.
“Safe.” The word slipped off her tongue. For an instant, where she was, what was happening, ceased to matter. It was as if she and Wolf had slipped into a private, silent, well-lit room built only for them. And not only safe. . . “Home,” she whispered. “Family?”

The scent deepened. His face smoothed, and for a second, there was the ghost of Chris- the lips she had kissed, the angles and planes of a face her fingers knew- and she felt her monster suddenly reach; was aware of an ache and a fiery burn that was need and desire flowing like lava through her veins.

The monster knows Wolf. This was new, as was the hard throb in her neck and the claw of something so close to raw, red yearning that she felt the rake of it across her chest. What the hell was going on? The times her mind had sidestepped from her to end up behind the eyes of the Changed- Spider, Leopard, Wolf- had been few, and mainly in response to their intense emotion, not hers. Long ago, Kincaid wondered if her tumor was reorganizing, the monster becoming something separate and distinct from her. God, and now it has. The monster wants Wolf.

“No, I’m in control,” she ground out, no longer sure whether she spoke to the monster or Wolf. She clung to the rock. “I’m Alex. I’m not a mon-“

CRACK!

A yelp bulleted from her mouth. The sound, somewhere to her left, had been enormous. At first, Alex thought she saw more water, a wide stream running a jagged dark course over stone. But then there were more snaps and cracks, the crisp sounds like thick ice over a deep lake in the dead of winter, because ice is restless, never still, always in flux, the stress building and building to the breaking point. Before her eyes, that jagged seam became a black lightning bolt, growing wider and darker and longer . . . Water still swirled around her waist, but now she also detected an insidious tug, much stronger than before.

From above came a hard bang and a thunk as rocks ricocheted and rebounded before slamming down in a stony fusillade. Crack! The rock wall squealed, singing with the strain.Crack-CRACK!

And that was when the Uzi actually moved.

Terror blazed through her veins. Almost without thinking, she sprang, her right hand splayed in a grab. If her ankle shrieked, she didn’t feel it. All she saw were Wolf’s hands, the one knotted in her parka and the other, gloved, clinging to the taut snake of rope that would have to be strong enough to hold them both. She felt his wrist sock into her palm, and then she was swinging a half-assed trapeze move as Wolf whipped her, hard and fast, like a stone in a bolo, trying to fold her against his chest. He might have done it, too. He had the strength she lacked, and he was solidly anchored besides. But then the Uzi shifted again, a sharp jolt down that knocked the breath from her chest.

She missed, dropping as the rock crumbled beneath her feet. Skating away, the Uzi was swept in a sudden tidal surge into this new and ever-expanding fissure, one that had grown so wide it was a sideways grin and then a toothless leer and then a black scream that matcher her own.
In the next instant, the wall shattered and split and opened with a roar.

The Review:

In the conclusion to the Ashes trilogy, everyone is fighting, and no one seems to be on the same side. Alex is fighting against Wolf and his pack of Changed even while learning their secrets, and while fighting against the monster in her head. Chris has left Rule and has fallen in with a band of travelers who may or may not be his salvation- if he can survive. And Tom has found refuge with a band former military vets who have the destruction of Rule their main goal, and have the perfect solider in Tom, especially when they twist tales of Chris’s and Alex’s relationship. Threatened by The Changed, the Saved, and everyone else, will Alex, Tom, and Chris be able to survive the darkest hours? Or will they finally fall to their foes?

Those who loved Ashes and Shadows will love the action in Monsters- it does NOT let up, just shifts points of view through the huge cast of characters that Black has created throughout her series. Familiar characters in the previous books come back for the final book, and almost all of the plot lines (see after the spoiler space for one that bugged me) are tied up relatively neatly (who are Wolf and the others, and what are their relationships to those in Rule? Why are the ones against Rule working from within?) in a huge and satisfying conclusion that is not a nice, neat, or pretty bow, unlike so many other series’ conclusions.  The narration does jump back and forth between characters frequently, so a close reading is recommended. 4 out of 5 stars. Definitely pair with other zombie fiction series such as Rot and Ruin or The Forest of Hands and Teeth.

SPOILER SPACE


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I read the whole series back to back, and even I had a bit of trouble keeping track of the narration and cast of characters in Monsters, so I was really glad that there was at least a small guide in the back of the book. I would have been happier if it had been in the front- it detailed what happened to who in the first two books. For those who had waited a year between Shadows and Monsters, it might be a bit hard to keep track of who Greg was, or Sarah.

I really enjoyed the detail and the writing within the story, and the fact that (as my teens say) Black used “big words.” Sometimes, it seems that YA literature does not use the full beauty and complexity of the English language, which can challenge teens, but they want and need that in writing- otherwise they can grow stagnant.

I really liked the fact that Alex was the main focus, and Alex was the one to save herself, although the whole thing with the love …triangle? I guess you’d call it square since it’s her, Tom, Chris, and Wolf… stuff gets really weird after a while. There are some scenes in there where it seems like Alex is really losing it, and falling for Wolf seems to be part of it. I adore the climax, however, and I really do like the end.

The one thing that bugged me, however, that probably won’t bug a lot of readers, is that they never explained what set off the EMP. At the beginning of Ashes and the whole series, everything is set in motion by a huge electromagnetic pulse. I get that- I understand science things. But no one explains where it came from; we get the science of the Changed, and the biology of what may or may not happen in the future, so we can know what will happen with Chris and the others, but there’s no explanation of WHY anything happened. It’s a pet peeve of mine, and it is just a smudge in my overall enjoyment of the series, but it’s still a buggy, naggy thing.

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