Author: Mike Mullin
Publisher: Tanglewood Press
Buy: Amazon, Book Depository
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.
I’ve been rolling in dystopias recently. I didn’t know what to expect of yet another post-apocalypse book, but all things considered, Ashfall managed to surprise me—in a good way.
The first thing I noticed—and liked—about Ashfall was that it started off in the world we know. Other dystopian novels I’ve read already had established futuristic societies, while Ashfall really focused on what happened, why the world fell. The apocalypse is so real, so probable, and because we know exactly how it happened, the possibility of such an apocalypse happening is really frightening.
I’m now grateful that I don’t live anywhere near a volcano. Although we’d probably all starve anyway if our food distributors went down. Ashfall reminded me of Vesuvius in Pompeii. Because such an “ashfall” had happened before, there’s this creepy tinge of truth lining the novel.
Alex was a great character, as was Darla. I loved the idea of a game geek (WoW!) knowing taekwondo. This breaks out of the “game geeks must be scrawny and weak” stereotype and I’m all for unique characters. The fights Alex had were filled with adrenaline and I really loved those scenes where action just kept happening, bam, bam, bam! It kept me turning through the pages (pressing Kindle buttons) through the book. Even though I felt that Darla was a bit too perfect—she’s a whiz with machines, can stitch people up, can cook, etc—I liked her anyhow. She doesn’t come across as a Mary Sue as her abilities suggest, and the weaknesses her mother’s death left her gave her the flaws I came to love.
Ashfall was a really fast-paced book. There was no time to process words slowly and admire the scenery. Mike Mullin’s writing cuts to the chase and there isn’t an inch of purple prose anywhere in the book. The writing brings out the story—how when you’re forced to survive, there’s nothing pretty about it.
I’m not a squeamish person. I could handle a dead hamster (hamsters, but not rabbits) and blood-dripping beef without a fuss. But reading Ashfall left me wanting to blanch. None of the gore in butchering and gutting a rabbit, slitting someone’s belly, crushing brains are watered down. The vivid descriptions made me want to read more, get past it, let the nightmare haunt me later. There’s no dignity or grace in escaping death. The horrors Alex and Darla went through made me empathise with them and want to read more of their story. I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone who is even remotely squeamish though.
What makes Ashfall so haunting is that it’s so probable. It’s too close to reality. It’s also what made me click my Kindle like a mad-girl. I couldn’t help but try find out what might happen if our world really did have an ashfall from a super volcano eruption.
Ashfall comes out on 11th October 2011 by Tanglewood press. Keep an eye out for it—if the apocalypse hasn’t happened already, that is! Meanwhile, I’ll be having my skiing-in-ash-and-nearly-starving nightmares—good ones though, mind you.
Disclaimer: This book was received for free from the publishers. No payment was received in return for this review. Opinions expressed in this review were in no way influenced by payments of any kind.