Published: 11th October 2011 by Tanglewood Press
Format: Hardcover, 466 pages
Genres: Post Apocalyptic
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Many visitors to Yellowstone National Park don’t realize that the boiling hot springs and spraying geysers are caused by an underlying supervolcano, so large that the caldera can only be seen by plane or satellite. And by some scientific measurements, it could be overdue for an eruption.
For Alex, being left alone for the weekend means having the freedom to play computer games and hang out with his friends without hassle from his mother. Then the Yellowstone supervolcano erupts, plunging his hometown into a nightmare of darkness, ash, and violence. Alex begins a harrowing trek to search for his family and finds help in Darla, a travel partner he meets along the way. Together they must find the strength and skills to survive and outlast an epic disaster.
A gripping tale of survival in a post-apocolyptic world, Ashfall made me reconsider everything I thought I knew about living in the wild. Many similar books use zombies or cannibals to increase the horror of such a world, but Mike Mullin doesn’t need anything of the sort to describe Alex and Darla’s harrowing fight to endure.
Although Alex wasn’t exactly a likeable character before the super-volcano erupted, I liked him from the very first page because of his frank and honest style of narration. He knows he wasn’t a stellar kid before the disaster, but he also knows how much he has changed and how quickly he had to grow up. On the other hand, I didn’t like Darla at all when I met her (and it seemed to take a long time for her to be introduced), but she eventually grew on me. The two protagonists balance one another out perfectly. Darla is a pragmatic, farm raised girl and a talented mechanic with experience in taking care of herself, while Alex was raised in the city and has basically zero knowledge of survival, but he is more caring and empathetic than Darla, trained in taekwondo, and a quick learner. Their inevitable attraction is interesting to read because it’s told from Alex’s point of view – its void of silly swooning and pumping hearts, instead focussing on Darla’s strength and the changes she provokes in Alex to become stronger.
The world building in the book is great – it’s obvious that the author has researched volcanic eruptions thoroughly (from what I remember of my own studies into the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius anyway), and describes their effects accurately. He also takes a long, heard look at human nature, and I believe he has wonderfully described the quick devolution to selfishness and greed that most people would undergo when faced with a natural disaster of such massive scale. But there are wonderful, helpful people who Alex and Darla meet along the way, and they restored my faith in humanity. The behaviour of the army and politicians after the disaster made me extremely uncomfortable: they locked people up in survival camps and declared certain areas red, yellow or green zones. I was saddened to realise that in the interest of protecting the greater population, the army may treat individuals so horrendously.
The plot and pacing left a little to be desired in my opinion, because it does take a long time for Darla to be introduced, and Alex spends much of his time wandering around alone, which leads to a great deal of reflection on his part . I thoroughly enjoyed the book after Darla was introduced, but the first third with Alex surviving alone felt slow. I feel like the story could have been just a little tighter. While I loved the plot of the story and how it all unfolded, the end-game seemed anti-climactic to me. After all that time spent trying to get to the farm in Warren, I didn’t quite believe that Alex would agree to stick around after realising his parents left to look for him. I’m not sure how much of that decision came from Alex’s growth as a character, and how much from the author’s desire to write a sequel.
I really enjoyed Ashfall, especially because it is so different from a lot of the YA that I usually read. I loved reading from a male point of view, I liked that there are nil supernatural elements to the story and that the two protagonists go so well together. I am going to read the sequel, Ashen Winter very soon, since I am on the blog tour, and I hope I enjoy it as well. Ashfall is the perfect book for those who love stories about survival, and for any readers looking for something different to read. Fair warning though – the book is very realistic and features certain survival tactics which may make readers uncomfortable.