“From the Ash” is not your average post-apocalyptic dystopian book. This isn’t a series about a young woman going on a quest to fix her broken and charred world, she’s not on a mission to put the world back to the way it was before the bombs dropped. No, all Phoenix wants to do is go home. She desperately is trying to get across the barren wasteland that most of the United States has been left in to get back to Maine, where she clings to the hope that those she loves are there waiting for her. Phoenix has no idea if her father or boyfriend are alive, but the idea of them NOT being there and waiting is beyond her comprehension. At its core, “From the Ash” is the journey of a young woman running away from her depression, blindly believing that something better HAS to be on the other end of that tunnel, because if not, then what would be the point of even trying to go on? I love the subtly of that feeling Phoenix has, from someone who has suffered from anxiety and depression, I can relate to that feeling. That irrational hope that you cling to because, if you didn’t, the idea of just getting out of bed in the morning would be pointless. But that’d be a really, really depressing book to focus purely on, so Heron wonderfully bundles that within a physically strong and capable woman, and gives her a task that shows the reader her struggles packaged in an apocalyptic world—that is far more believable then most books out there—and that’s wonderful!
Ok so first things first, this book is not going to be for everyone. Despite the lovely young lady on the cover, this is not a YA novel by any means. “From the Ash” is like the Mad Maxx movies meets “The Walking Dead” in terms of the harshness of the world the characters find themselves in. Therefore, there is a lot of violence, and some of it can be pretty disturbing, I won’t say what or how, because that would unfortunately be a spoiler for the bad guy who will be sticking around for at least another book. There is also a lot of swearing in this book, and while it 100% fits with the setting, if you want a book devoid of those things, you aren’t going to enjoy Heron’s tale. I am not a fan of gratuitous amounts of violence or language, but because it fits the world so well, and adds to the flavor of the story, if Heron hadn’t included those elements, his world would have felt incomplete.
Like I mentioned, Phoenix’s goals are simple: she’s just trying to get home. Because of this, she’s not out to figure out what happened, how to fix it, rounding up survivors… any of that, so the reader will not be given those answers either, because that’s just not the main character’s prerogative. This book is focused on her cross country trek, and what she encounters along the way. She isn’t a callous person, she helps where she can, and constantly fights her despair so as not to lose her humanity, but this is a fast paced book focused on the journey, and that may not be for everyone. I enjoy those kinds of stories, but I can see why others may find that frustrating, so just be forewarned.
Despite the dark and, at times, violent setting that Heron creates, there are some genuinely funny moments. Once you meet Kip, you’ll see what I’m talking about. The way he pokes fun at the situation and kind of calls out the obvious ridiculousness of it, is hilarious and very well done. Speaking of characters, I love how flawed Heron made Phoenix, and how lonely she is. You notice it with how persistent the voices in her head are, until they ebb away the more she interacts and befriends others. It’s subtle and may be considered a mild spoiler, but once I noticed that Heron was doing that, I was blown away, and I just had to mention it in the review. But regardless, I love badass female leads who are flawed, but not damsels in distress. Too often male writers who pen women will tend to do that, and it’s a serious pet peeve of mine. To create this physically powerful woman who still needs a man to emotionally save her from herself through his love. Blech. Heron never falls into that trope, and I am here for that!
There are a lot of good things I can say about this book, and they far outweigh the small issues I had (for example, I would have liked to know more about how the world went to hell, but I do trust Heron to explain that in later books), but the only bad thing is that the book ends on a serious cliffhanger that fills the reader with equal amounts of hope and tension over the fate of Phoenix and her friends. Which is amazing! But sucks because book two is not available yet. Still, I can live with that—for now.
Even though Heron and I share a publisher, it in no way influenced my review, but I felt it necessary to disclosure for transparencies sake. I highly enjoyed this book, but can’t give it the full 5 stars because of the ending, but it’s not enough of an issue that this is a 4 star, either. So let’s go with a 4.9 only because Heron is making me wait so long for book 2!