Pros: Fascinating, whimsical, dark
Cons: Some details that still confuse me a little
Rating: 4 out of 5
Dean Koontz’s Ashley Bell is the story of Bibi Blair, a children’s book author who gets swept up in a very strange set of events. She believes she’s meant to save the life of someone named Ashley Bell, but she has no idea who that is or where to start. She also seems to be opposed by deadly folk of both mundane and supernatural origin.
Maybe ten years ago (or thereabouts) I remember thinking that Koontz’s ability to create tension was amazing, but the early parts of his books tended to drag, over-explain, etc. Well, he’s definitely improved over those years. I’m crazy about most of his Odd Thomas books, and Ashley Bell has more in common with those books than his earlier work. There’s a certain whimsicality that reminds me of Odd Thomas, but it’s matched with some no-nonsense personality. Prose that I used to find overly purple now adds a lovely lyricism–and I don’t find the purple as out-of-place.
Bibi is a wonderfully fun character. Her parents are both surfers (and she has done plenty of surfing of her own). She has some fascinating friends, and she’s involved with a Navy SEAL–who happens to be in the middle of a mission that doesn’t allow contact when things start getting weird. Bibi herself is a very strong character, willing to push hard and work her ass off to get where she’s going. Although she’s strong-willed and brave, she has some past demons to work her way through. She’s deliberately suppressed some memories, and without them she isn’t going to be able to complete her mission. With them, however, she might fall apart. The cadence of the book is such that it made me feel Bibi and her personality.
There are some events partway through the book that in many authors’ hands would act as deus ex machinae. Instead, they add new dimensions to the events that are going on–new challenges, and new resources. I was dubious of them at first, but they worked seamlessly into the narrative. The theme that wends its way through every word is one of reality, right down to questioning whether those repressed memories are real, and on what level.
I’m running out of ways to get into this that won’t give too much away. It suffices to say that I loved the pacing, style, personality, tension, and characters of Ashley Bell!
NOTE: Book provided free for review by publisher
Expected publication date: 12/8/2015