Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 466 pages
Publisher: Tanglewood Press
Release date: October 11th 2011
Series: Ashfall #1
Source: Personal Shelf
Reviewed by: Christine
Under the bubbling hot springs and geysers of Yellowstone National Park is a supervolcano. Most people don’t know it’s there. The caldera is so large that it can only be seen from a plane or satellite. It just could be overdue for an eruption, which would change the landscape and climate of our planet.
Ashfall is the story of Alex, a teenage boy left alone for the weekend while his parents visit relatives. When the Yellowstone supervolcano erupts unexpectedly, Alex is determined to reach his parents. He must travel over a hundred miles in a landscape transformed by a foot of ash and the destruction of every modern convenience that he has ever known, and through a new world in which disaster has brought out both the best and worst in people desperate for food, water, and warmth. With a combination of nonstop action, a little romance, and very real science, this is a story that is difficult to stop reading and even more difficult to forget.
Ashfall was one of the most disturbing post-apocalyptic books I’ve read in a long time. Part of what helps it have such an enormous impact is the fact that the premise, the basic idea behind the apocalyptic event is a very real and possible threat.
Alex is fifteen and alone for a weekend. His parents and his annoying little sister visit his uncle in Iowa. Alex is glad to have a few days of peace and quiet which are interrupted by a fire in his house. That fire turns out to be just the harbinger of even worse things to come. Only hours later, the volcano beneath the Yellowstone National Park erupts. Soon, he decides to risk the perilous trail of crossing the state lines in order to find his family.
Alex’s journey is full of danger and desperation. Mike Mullin succeeds to pull the reader in and get emotionally invested in Alex’s struggle to survive. I was sitting on the edge of my seat the whole time, hoping that Alex would master the next crisis yet again. Some situations and descriptions were almost too gory and shocking, but I guess in this harsh new reality, those situations are just part of the everyday life.
Ashfall is not only about Alex’s physical journey, but also shows how a typical teenager is forced to grow up in the matter of a few weeks. Even though he has to make very harsh decisions and even forced to kill people who wish him harm, he always regrets what he is forced to do and doesn’t become one of those who forgets his humanity and all morals after the eruption. To be honest, he sometimes even seems like a bit too good-hearted for this new world.
Luckily, he meets Darla, a very capable and crafty young woman. Even though his arrival at her farm has a horrible effect on her life, she decides to stick with Alex on his trail to Iowa. She is very pragmatic and a character you have to admire for her strength and resourcefulness. The horrible things the two of them have to endure form a very close bond between them. Even though their relationship becomes very intimate in a short time, it doesn’t feel forced at all. There are a lot of bittersweet moments between the two of them I really enjoyed.
Alex and Darla both deal with the drastic changes of their realities in a very realistic way. Alex can use his taekwondo skill he has been training since before the apocalypse and Darla the knowledge she has gained from working on a farm. Together, they make up a pretty good team.
Ashfall is also full of interesting secondary characters. Just like Alex and Darla, the reader begins to be wary towards everyone the two of them encounter. The ending left me with split feelings. I was both happy for the semi happy ending, on the other hand, Alex discover that his journey might not be over yet.
I read Mike Mullins debut in one sitting, I simply couldn’t put it aside. The story left me breathless with excitement, sometimes shocked and abhorred between words and anxious to see what happens next. So, the pacing was pretty much perfect. Especially the scenes at the camp left questions unanswered about the new political structure and the current leaders and their intentions.
Ashfall is emotionally very unsettling. Very soon after the eruption, humans begin to show their true faces. Some of them show incredible kindness even under the most dire circumstances, others prove that humans are indeed the worst predators to roam the earth. It is one of the books that made me think “what if…?”. It stayed with me long after I finished it.
Ashfall is an equally fantastic yet quieting debut. I can recommend it to anyone who wants a disturbingly real post-apocalyptic story full of danger, desperation but also hope, kindheartedness and a moving and sincere love story. I´m eagerly waiting for the sequel, Ashen Winter. It sure seems like a long time until September!
If you want so decide if Ashfall is a book you might like, read the first two chapters here.
There’s also a fan made trailer for Ashfall: