Ashfall by Mike Mullin
Series: Ashfall #1
Published by Tanglewood Press on October 11th, 2011
Genres: post apocalyptic, young adult
Buy on Amazon
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 seach 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 librarian can’t live by books alone, and I wouldn’t eat them if I could. Feel too much like cannibalism.”
“For the first time ever, I felt ashamed of my species. The volcano had taken our homes, our food, our automobiles, and our airplanes, but it hadn’t taken our humanity. No, we’d given that up on our own.”
Review: It is hard to write reviews for authors I know. Mike Mullin is on my friends list at Booklikes, and I get so jumpy about my final rating and my opinion of said books. I can say, with confidence, that I was able to separate my personal feelings from my reading persona when I picked up Ashfall on Amazon after witnessing the awesomeness of this author.
Ashfall, even without such a wonderful author, was able to stand on its own merits. This disaster novel covers a possible issue for the future: The huge delayed volcano under Yellowstone Park. I can recall discussions about this area as far back as grammar school. I was thrilled to see the scientific research and care taken to fully bring this book to life.
The book is written from a male point of view, which I rarely come across in YA fiction. Alex is remarkably relatable and shows a huge growth in his character over the span of the novel. At the start, Alex comes across as slightly spoiled and hormone-ridden, as seen for his disdain for his mother and his younger sister. His voice is slightly immature at the start, which actually seems to work out in favor of the novel. As the story progresses, Alex is forced to deal with a slew of difficult and adult decisions. His mission to basically locate his missing family is touching yet basic. I was happy to read about a book without an overly complicated plot. Alex is Every Boy in America, and setting out on a one-track, simplistic mission helped support the character’s motives and personality. Kudos for a fundamental yet clear motive.
Alex’s love interest, Darla, steps in a little further into the novel. I cannot express how gratifying it is to not see the romantic partner so early in the book. I’ll derail here for a bit to point out that YA is supporting a growing tread of main characters who are defined by their objective to Attract the Other Person and nothing more. If the romantic partner is introduced in the very early stages of the book, the rest of the main protagonist’s nature and personality seems stunted from the start. All the audience knows is their quirks and what must be done to win their god-like prize. Ashfall allowed Alex to gain a identity and a voice before we see the possibility of a love story develop.
Speaking of Darla, I was a bit worried that she would venture off towards the “bitch with a lukewarm heart” typecasting. Darla did come across as a bit cruel and inflammatory at times, but she ended up really growing on me. Darla also takes her time to actually cultivate a persona before her role is defined in the book. Instead of emotional and fickle, she is able to step into the independent and strong territory without going overboard on the rage factor. I’m not sure why this trend has developed, but the opposite from “secret sensitive bad boy” is the “bitchy yet lovable hot girl.”
I also enjoyed the science of the book. The fallout from the volcano helped build the integrity of the novel. I actually really enjoy science-based fantasy fiction. I do love my fantasy, but I need some reality injected into my stories at times. The author even introduced a government program as well, adding to the depth of the entire story arc. I’ll warn you now – this book can be depressing as hell at times, and it is going to challenge the contents of your stomach and your heart at times.
The only issues I have with Ashfall are the pacing of the book (it seemed to drag at times) and the tangled knot of characters and events. It seemed that there was a lot to cram into the book, and it felt a little disjointed during portions of the novel. I’ll also take a moment to warn reviewers of animal cruelty in the book, and discussion about cleaning a carcass after a kill.
Overall, I will say that this is a great book that seems to break the mold. The characters are likable, and the realism in this fiction-based book will attract contemporary lovers.