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When the Cicadas Stop Singing by Zachary Ashford [Book Review]

When a new book drops from the author of the ‘Sole Survivor’ series (an enjoyable duo of books featuring killer Koalas) that promises more creature feature action, I snapped it up expecting another unapologetically fun and silly romp. I was surprised (pleasantly so) to find that ‘When the Cicadas Stop Singing’ is a much different story to the one I was expecting.

Trying to live in a world decimated by the invasion of monstrous creatures, Cora has managed to claw together some semblance of normality living a solitary existence in a remote mountain range where she lives off the land and mourns the recent loss of her young son.

book cover of When the Cicadas Stop Singing by Zachary Ashford

Her relative peace is shattered by the arrival of a couple seeking shelter, as well as the promise of more people to come. Will this unwanted company bring the attention of the deadly beings who have been hunting Cora, or has the real danger already made itself known, hiding in plain sight. 

Ashford throws a lot of different things into his concept to make it something genuinely new and distinct. Its post-apocalyptic setting is well utilised and the creatures (a kind’ve semi-intelligent, Lizard-man hybrid) are very effective and had the story just focused on these elements, it would have been an above-average man versus monster story. What really elevates the material is its focus on character and the unexpected introduction of a different kind of antagonist at the midway point. ‘When the Cicadas Stop Singing’ takes a completely out-there, almost bizarro concept, then proceeds to play everything else completely straight, making the stakes very personal, expecting the reader to accept the crazy set-up so that the book itself can focus on its human characters. It’s a hard balance to strike but it is note-perfect here. 

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One of the books secret weapons is Cora. She is quickly shown to be a capable and resourceful character, making the best of a tough situation. She often comes across as a cross between Rambo and Lara Croft, particularly early on. The longer we spend with her however, the more Ashford humanises her and we begin to see her as more vulnerable. She makes mistakes, becomes more unsure of herself, but never falters from doing what she believes to be right. She is immediately likeable and an engaging presence, and the more page time she gets the more you begin to relate to her, despite the wild and crazy situation she is in.

The creatures themselves don’t feature too heavily after a rousing opening scene and there is good reason for that. You should also not expect the cliched, ‘Walking Dead’ esque “The humans are the real monsters” style reveal. Without spoiling anything, things take an unexpected turn in the third act where the character development of the first act and the pressure cooker tension of the second come to head to deliver one of the most exciting and nerve-shredding finales in recent memory. 

As a Creature Feature, ‘When the Cicadas Stop Singing’ is as fast-paced and entertaining as genre fans would expect, but it is equally capable of tugging at your heartstrings when the need arises. Horror fiction may have an abundance of ‘nature gone wild’ stories, but none quite like Zachary Ashford’s latest. An absolute must-read.

Richard Martin

Richard Martin

Reviewer

Richard Martin started reading horror books at a young age, starting with R L Stine’s ‘Goosebumps’ and ‘Point Horror’ series. He traumatized himself at the age of twelve when he read Stephen King’s ‘IT’, and never looked back. He is currently based in the UK, where he lives with his partner and an inappropriate amount of books. 

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