Published by Clarion Books on October 6, 2015
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The strange war down south—with its rumors of gods and monsters—is over. And while sixteen-year-old Hallie and her sister wait to see who will return from the distant battlefield, they struggle to maintain their family farm.
When Hallie hires a veteran to help them, the war comes home in ways no one could have imagined, and soon Hallie is taking dangerous risks—and keeping desperate secrets. But even as she slowly learns more about the war and the men who fought it, ugly truths about Hallie’s own family are emerging. And while monsters and armies are converging on the small farm, the greatest threat to her home may be Hallie herself.
A lone figure ambles its way up the twisted ruins of road to find itself unbidden on the steps of a solitary farmhouse. Is the stranger friend or foe? God or man? For 16 year old Hallie, the questions, and the threat, are all too real. In the desolate ruins of civilization, Hallie and her much older sister Marthe have been clinging to their farm, their world, and trying to hold on to each other, but are failing at both.
I really enjoyed this book; more, actually, than I have any book in almost two months (I’ve been in a really terrible slump). It has the isolated, post-apocalyptic farm vibe of The Hallowed Ones, with a touch of The Stand, and more than a touch of The Subtle Knife. Leah Bobet crafts this book out of simply gorgeous prose that is never overwrought. This is a sparse, ruined world and Bobet’s words fit the eerie, desperate tone of it perfectly. A strange and unknown war happened in the south between the Wicked God and mortal men. At last the Wicked God fell, but his Twisted Things, creatures so close to animals from our world but not, have been tearing across the land burning in their path. And now they’re on Hallie’s and Marthe’s farm.
It’s hard to place this book at first. It seems like a fantasy taking place in a world roughly analogous to 19th century America. Is the Wicked God real? What are the Twisted Things and how did god and monsters even come to this world in the first place? Eventually it becomes clear that this is the ruins of North America about 100 years after civilization fell. But the questions about this strange war, and from whence it came, linger on.
The strongest point in this book is its masterful character development. Hallie particularly shines in her internal journey. There is a large cast of characters. Hallie, her sister Marthe; Tyler and Nat, her two oldest friends; Heron, the enigmatic veteran battling his own demons; and many more neighbors and friends who together make a complete world out of their tiny community. I especially enjoyed the diversity of this book with its many POC and queer characters included in the narrative. They aren’t Other, they just are; and Bobet is exceptionally good at including this diversity seamlessly.
But beyond the supernatural elements, the mythical elements, the ruined world, and the war…this book is about so many deeper things. It’s about the very human effects of war, on society and on ourselves; on the soldiers who fought, on the ones they leave behind, and the ones they come home to. It’s about how even when the war is over, the fight to remain human is often just beginning.
Some wars aren’t fought on battlefields, either. Some exist in the hearts of minds of those who are survivors of abuse. Both Hallie and Marthe are still living in the shadow of their abusive father, eight years dead. Both so wounded by what he inflicted and still kept apart by the way he poisoned one against the other. If you enjoy heartfelt sibling stories this one is definitely for you.
Don’t worry. The answers about the Wicked God, and the war, and the Twisted Things do come. You will be satisfied. But they’re not what’s really at the heart of this book. It’s about very human failings, how we overcome them, how we grow up and grow together. About how we can learn to recognize our mistakes and start to fix them.
Oh, and yes, there is a very sweet, minimal romance in this story. Hallie and Tyler are childhood best friends who slowly come together as something more throughout this book. The unfolding of Hallie’s feelings for Tyler are so natural and real. At first, she’s unsure about how romance would even fit into her internal universe. They kiss, and she doesn’t see fireworks. It’s normal. Hallie learns that sometimes the fireworks come later through trust and time and learning to really see a person for exactly who they are and loving them for that.
So, you might be saying now, “Kim, it sounds like you absolutely adored this book. Why only 3.5?” Well, a couple of things. I don’t think this is at all fair or a judgment against the book, but I am still very much in a slump so it didn’t pull at my heartstrings as strongly as I wanted it to. There were definitely many heart tugging moments, though. I think if I had read this book non-slump it would definitely be a four. The other thing, and this is definitely not the book’s fault, was that the formatting for my eARC was all sorts of wonky and it was distracting and made it hard to concentrate sometimes.
All in all, An Inheritance of Ashes is a beautifully written, supernatural-ish tale of sisters and of friends, of the enemies within and the enemies without, and of how we can heal after all. I have Leah Bobet as an author to watch, and am definitely eager to read whatever she puts out next.
An advance copy was provided by the publisher for this review.