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. – Goodreads
Quickly glancing through the goodreads page for Ashfall brings to the attention multiple four and five star reviews. It’s easy to understand why so many readers loved it: it has its thrilling moments, but Mike Mullin also created a realistic, bleak landscape that truly grasped the ugliness of humanity in the worst of times. There’s no sugarcoating or handholding in Ashfall and Mullin exposed the desperation that comes with the kind of suffering it features.
Though I did find myself engrossed in the novel — I finished it in one sitting — I did find encounter some issues that kept me from truly loving the book to the fullest extent. For one, Alex, the main character, came across as too immature and young for my liking. Though he did end up displaying growth, as well all other makings of a strong character, I found myself unable to truly connect to him. I didn’t feel any urgency for him to reunite with his family and there was a detachment from him throughout his journey.
I’m familiar with all sorts of hunting taking place in these post-apocalyptic reads: everyone from Katniss in The Hunger Games to Alex in Ashes is sure to capture and eat some sort of animal at some point. I’m fine with that; it’s to be expected. However, Mullin took that to another level with a very gruesome and detailed slaughter of a rabbit (and, later, pigs). It’s possible that I’m being oversensitive, as I’m an owner of a pet rabbit, but it was just too much. I saw no point in going that into depth about it except for the shock factor.
Alex’s romance with Darla is another aspect of the book I couldn’t get into. It felt forced, rushed, and not something that was at all necessary for this particular story. They went through some tough stuff together, and I could understand some of their physical involvement, but the “I love you”s? Uh… There’s certainly a desperation and attachment between them, but anything outside of that left me feeling cold.
Will I continue on to the next book? Maybe. I did enjoy Mullin’s depiction of a realistic disaster — I personally had no idea about the supervolcano in Yellowstone — and the honesty and brutality of human nature. I also appreciated the pace he kept throughout the course of the novel; there were some intense moments, but he also captured the emptiness and quiet that other books sometimes miss out on in favor of “BANG! BANG! BANG!” It’s very likely that the issues I found with the book are mine alone, and that other readers will find no problem with them, so definitely give this a try if you’re curious about it.
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