Published September 2019
*Review by Alexa*
After escaping her kidnappers and destroying the black market where she was held captive, all Nita wants is to find a way to live her life without looking over her shoulder. But with a video of her ability to self-heal all over the dark web, Nita knows she’s still a prime target on the black market.
There’s only one way to keep herself safe.
Nita must make herself so feared that no one would ever dare come after her again. And the best way to start building her reputation? Take her revenge on Fabricio, the boy who sold Nita to her kidnappers. But killing Fabricio is harder than Nita thought it would be, even with Kovit by her side. Now caught in a game of kill or be killed, Nita will do whatever it takes to win.
If you’ve been following the blog (or my bookstagram) for any length of time, you already know of my deep love for Rebecca Schaeffer’s debut Not Even Bones. It’s the dark, twisted, gory, relevant urban fantasy that my black little heart had been craving. I devoured it in two days—an impressive feat for me—and I immediately wanted more. My wait was cut in half when I got my greedy little hands on an arc of Only Ashes Remain, the second in the Market of Monsters trilogy, at the end of May…and devoured it in just a few days. Any trepidation I had about the sequel was proven to be fully unfounded. With Ashes, Schaeffer has done the near impossible by creating a sequel that honors the original while building on it and allowing both the characters and the story to grow. Oh, and it’s just as twisted, bloody, and unapologetically dark as the first.
Let’s get down to some specifics. First up, our anti-hero and morally screwed up MC, Nita. I very much enjoyed getting to dive deeper into Nita’s psyche and to see how she acts in a new and larger environment than the Black Market we spent nearly all of our time in book one. Whereas Nita’s sole focus in Not Even Bones was escape and survival, in Ashes we see Nita shift to that deliciously gray area of vengeance. Getting to explore Nita’s single-minded focus and the slippery slope of her justifications was delightful and, in my humble opinion, very real and relatable. In fact, Nita remains one of the most relatable female characters in YA, which is something of a feat itself considering she’s a dissection happy “unnatural” bent on revenge. She’s strong, but she has moments of intense fear and weakness, and she makes catastrophic mistakes that she often doesn’t learn from as much as she should. She takes charge of her life and owns her mistakes, and I just love her for it.
Sometimes she could see the monster inside him. And sometimes he made her see the monster inside herself.
Speaking of love, lets talk a little bit about my creepy book boyfriend, Kovitz. Schaeffer takes a deep dive into Kovitz’s past and builds him up so much more as a fully fleshed out character. He is still super creepy and unsettling to be sure, but he’s also sympathetic. I love how he fully owns his decisions and refuses to let his hideous childhood make them for him. His actions are his and his alone for good and for bad. It’s impressive to have a character as viscerally unsettling as Kovitz be so sympathetic and scary all at the same time. Oh, and I fully ship Nita and Kovitz, and I refuse to apologize for it.
The world building is even better in Ashes than it was in Bones, partly due to the fact that we get to explore a larger swath of society. Schaeffer expertly layers in details about the political situations impacting our characters, as well as adding to and expanding on the lore surrounding the various types of unnaturals. The unicorns, for instance, are especially stomach churning, and I don’t think I can ever look at them the same way again. I think I could read an entire book of nothing but the various myths and realities surrounding all of the different unnaturals, and every time another of them was explored it was a wonderful treat. The new characters are also fantastic and add some much needed variety to the story. Adair and Diana are just as layered, dark, and unsettling as everyone else in this story, and I sincerely hope we get more of them in book three.
Finally, Schaeffer continues to weave her story around relevant social justice issues with finesse and dagger sharp prose. I especially appreciated every mention of the incredible gun violence and police brutality that are some of the hallmarks of United States culture. What is a monster, what makes a monster, what defines us, and what do our choices say about us are themes consistent from Bones into Ashes, and I hope they continue into book three. Not many authors, especially YA fantasy authors, are brave enough to dive into those types of problems, and Schaeffer looks them dead in the eye, making the story not only relevant but stark, and a different type of unsettling.
She wondered when being able to trust someone had become more important than whether they were a monster or not.
I think it goes without saying at this point, but I adore this book. The pacing, plot, character development, and character arcs all shine without ever outdoing each other. It’s compelling, dark, morally messy, and unapologetically bloody and violent. Nothing is easy or simple in Schaeffer’s world, and actions always consequences…often bloody ones. I am already anxious to get my hands on book three, and it is going to be a long, infuriating wait to find out what happens after that cliffhanger.
Curious about my thoughts on Not Even Bones? Just click on this handy link and you’ll be transported to my full review: Not Even Bones (Market of Monsters #1)