From the Ashes by Baileigh Higgins

Front cover of From the Ashes by Baileigh HigginsHiggins continues her portrayal of how groups of emergency service workers might act during a zombie apocalypse with a classic “packs of zombies breach the compound” narrative.

Note: while the author is blessed with a spiffing surname we are unrelated by blood or marriage.

This novel is the fifth in Higgins’ Heroes of the Apocalypse series. Possible spoilers for the previous volumes ahead.

After days without their worst fears materialising, the survivors of the disaster at the fire station are starting to think of the hospital community as safe—if not yet home. However, when raiders manage to release zombies within the hospital, tentative relaxation becomes a scramble for survival. A scramble that threatens to erase the tentative alliance between the hospital and the new arrivals.

After the focus of social politics and longer-term concerns of the previous volume, the major arc of this one switches back to fast-paced zombie combat and handling immediate issues. However, with the two groups of survivors intermingled when disaster strikes—and thus needing to make decisions about who is in charge, who to attempt to rescue, and so forth with little time for debate—this builds on the disputes of the last book rather than moving away from it. In parallel with this, Nikki continues the journey from her stepfather’s house that she began earlier in the series.

Thus, the book offers multiple perspectives on both whether one should treat close friends, mere acquaintances, and strangers differently, and whether that is how people do act when under extreme pressure.

As one would expect of the fifth volume of a series, the characters and situations are notably influenced by past events. Higgins does include references to these where they provide context to present choices; however, these are fragments integrated into the narrative rather than full explanations, and so it is unlikely to provide a good entry point for readers who prefer to know why a character makes apparently flawed choices rather than simply assume there is a reason.

The combat and surrounding dangers are neither gratuitously visceral nor overly sanitised; thus, while each reader’s preferences for trauma and gore might be different, fans of zombie fiction are likely to find the description a good balance between portraying the brutal threat of fighting ravening packs of undead in tight corridors and avoiding shocking details for the sake of it.

Higgins similarly balances the psychological aspects, avoiding both characters spending page after page in angst-ridden passivity, and characters casting off traumatic events or choices as if they were trivial.

Unlike the previous volume, the novel does not end mid-disaster. Instead, the survivors are starting their fallback plan for the loss of the hospital. Depending on reader preference, the existence of another potential sanctuary might feel like an embodiment of the preparedness of emergency service personnel or a little too fortunate.

As before, Higgins’ prose inclines more toward description and clarity rather than leaving the reader to assume or speculate on events. This creates a subtle echo of reports and officialdom that fits with the series’ theme of emergency service workers but might create a slight feel of distance for readers more used to the trimmed style of many modern action novels.

The returning characters, whether those who have been there since the start or only appeared in the previous volume, display a consistency with their previous characters while still occasionally acting unexpectedly as real people do under great pressure. As before, they have a decency and competence that results in them clashing not over obvious choices between right and wrong but over which of the potentially best things is the one to do.

In contrast, the raiders lack decency or real community. While they do not feature in many scenes, Higgins provides them with enough character that they do not seem merely stereotypical “bad guys”; this gives them a sense of agency that contrasts with the mindlessness of the zombies, not merely avoiding the sense they are merely another attacking force like the zombies but making them a more powerful contrast to the other survivors.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. I recommend it to readers who have enjoyed the previous volumes or are seeking visceral zombie action.

I received a free copy from the author with a request for a fair review.

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