Book Review: Rise From the Ashes – Lena’s Story by Laura Franklin

Another indieview comission here and this is the sort of post-apocalyptic drama that is right up my street so I gladly accepted this one. Most of the world has been hit by multiple and simultaneous chemical strikes that has killed 50% of their populations and left them without functioning government or an kind of structure.

We follow the titular Lena (Lean-ah not Lane-ah), an otherwise unremarkable 19 year old PR student from small town Massachusetts as her diary begins three days after the attack. She has already met up with the US Marine who is her companion on the trip.

The theme is very much in the tradition of The Road and Mad Max but there is at least some form of organised government left due to the regular radio broadcasts they listen to and the fact that the town still seems to have a Sheriff. We primarily follow Lena but it also randomly jumps around to a Minister and the various countries to see the state of the world.

I’m in two minds about Lena. She doesn’t seem to have much of a personality most of the time. As her text is in first person, we really needed insight: thoughts, hopes and worries rather than a mere chronicle of events. First person narrative needs depth and this is sadly lacking. You might notice I said “her text” not “the text”. That’s because the scenes not involving Lena are in the Third Person. This is disjointing – I’d rather have one or the other instead of mixing both.

I found the premise difficult to accept. The Taliban is responsible for this global destruction. The Taliban? A small terrorist group operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan could do this? I’d find it difficult to believe that Al Qaeda could have resources for this so for the Taliban it should be a near impossibility to amass so many weapons and long range launch mechanisms and then stage invasions of the western world. A credibility stretch too far for me.

Another issue I had was the blanket assumption that all of Europe has collapsed with very little distinction between the countries – it’s just “Europe”. Perhaps though, this is the result of the character’s ignorance. At 19 from small town USA she isn’t likely to be worldly-wise so most European countries are likely to be one and the same anyway. Plus, it would be in the interests of what’s left of the American government to push the idea that “we’re doing better… of course we are, we’re America!” What can’t be excused is the painting by numbers attitude to those other countries – very generic as though the only research into other countries cultures and governments came entirely from Fox News.

But now for the good points.

It reads incredibly well without being over-simplified and as it is so short (50,000 words) you’ll find yourself flying through it. The length works too; I was expecting to complain that it is too short, but it isn’t at all. However it wouldn’t harm the writer to consider a longer version and iron out some of those problems above.

Some tentative, unexpected and interesting twists develop during the narrative too. Some people (including Lena) are having strange dreams that might be premonitions. On the other hand, it seems some people are developing superpowers – nothing too spectacular at first – but enough to make you think “eh?”

What is there is an interesting framework – I just feel it needs work to improve it.

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