Into The Ashes by Lee Murray
Published by Severed Press
Release date: Mid-February
The third novel in a series, Into The Ashes is a continuation of the adventures of New Zealand Defence Force Sergeant Taine McKenna. The story takes place in a modern New Zealand (there are references to Lorde and Netflix) that is steeped in Maori culture, magic and mythology. From the looks of author Lee Murray’s bibliography she can write just about anything, but I’m glad she seems to lean toward the horror and fantasy sides of things as I personally haven’t read anything else like this coming out of New Zealand. Having not read the previous two books in this series, I had no trouble getting my head around her fantastical yet familiar New Zealand and the characters she’s created there.
The story set-up is genius. It’s something like Dante’s Peak meets Con Air. A volcano in New Zealand’s central plateau sits on the brink of eruption, while a bus filled with inmates from a nearby prison crashes on one of the few roads out of town, and releases the convicts into the wild. The heroes of the piece, the New Zealand Defence Force, are sent in to do a final sweep of the area, clearing stragglers and marooned citizens from the volcano’s splash zone.
Murray has a real way with landscape, and the setting of the Tongariro National Park is skilfully evoked. At any moment when I felt the story lagging a little, Murray was there with an earthquake, a sinkhole, a rockfall, or a lahar. I’m a big lahar fan. Those rivers of mud, lava and debris that flow down the mountain provided a lot of the best visual imagery and tension of the novel. My only complaint about the apocalyptic scenario as a whole is that it could have done with a few more dead people. Or maybe some more spectacular deaths? I’ll just say that guns played more of a role than I would have liked. I’m team lahar!
Lead character Taine McKenna is definitely a hero I can get behind. He’s a no nonsense problem solver with a loyal team and a dedication to the greater good. His opponent, the ‘Cyrus the Virus’ to his Cameron Poe, is escaped convict leader Barnes. Barnes is, unfortunately, not a villain I can get behind. A murderous megalomaniac who quickly makes minions out of the remaining bus convicts, Barnes does one of three things throughout the entire book – he menaces people, he thinks about how much he hates being in charge despite having put himself in charge, and he murders people. That’s about all Barnes is good for. But at the end of the day he is the villain, and the fact that I disliked him so much probably means he was doing what the author put him on this earth to do.
Similar to Barnes, I wasn’t a big fan of the main female character Jules Asher, so I’m going to pivot to a character I was a big fan of, and one who I wish there was more of in the book. Having not read the previous books I’m not entirely across Hine’s back-story, but from what I can gather she is one of the few remaining members of a small tribe of super-people. Taine’s squad discovered her people in a previous book and let her join the team as a way to, I think, let her see the world (New Zealand) and hide in plain sight at the same time. Hine is a kind of Wonder Woman figure to me. She has increased strength and endurance, she’s no nonsense and level-headed and with her webbed hands she can swim like a fish for kilometres.
So all in all I enjoyed the book and I’m curious enough to check out the others in the series.
Hannah White is a screenwriter, script consultant and book reader from Melbourne, Australia. Her short film Blood Sisters has played at over 15 festivals worldwide. She likes pizza and genre fiction.