Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Book Review: Ashfall by Mike Mullin

Ashfall by Mike Mullin

Reading Level: Young Adult
Hardcover: 476 pages
Publisher: Tanglewood Press (September 27, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1933718552
ISBN-13: 978-1933718552
Series: Ashfall #1
Source: ARC received by author
Cover: I could take it or leave this cover. I like that it's an actual scene in the book but the ARC copy looks a bit middle grade to me. I guess the guy and girl don't look old enough. I like the final version better and it does fit the novel with all the grit and gray.
First Sentence: "I was home alone on that Friday evening."

Mini-ReviewA dark gritty debut that peeks into the most horrific corners of humanity with glimmers of hope sprinkled throughout.


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 isn't for the faint of heart. Every horror known to mankind makes a debut in this debut novel about survival in the most dire of circumstances. Mr. Mullin stretches his characters to the very thinnest layers of their existence and what surfaces are very real, very flawed people that the reader can't help but identify with. The writing is easy to read, this new atmosphere after the ash fall horrific and the main character's ingenuity is endearing and fascinating. Ashfall is dark, gritty and excellent for it!

I don't expect to read a dsytopian novel about catastrophic disasters and have a pleasant time. I don't even expect to have a good time. What I do expect is to find some incredible character building. There has to be because everything else is so bleak and also because this character is going to be stripped of everything. In this expectation, Ashfall doesn't disappoint. Alex's voice is strong, going from typical 15 year old boy to an adult throughout the book as he is forced to grow up through fear, starvation, pain, dehydration and a million other terrible things. What made him such a pleasure being with was how smart he was. I wish I'd had a bit more insight into how he knew all these things. It would have been nice if maybe he was in boy scouts when he was younger or in to hiking or something just so we knew how he was able to think of using skis in the ashfall. Especially since there was no one else using this method. Regardless, Alex's ability to look outside of the box in order to survive because he had to is amazing experience and helped me identify with him. At times a typical boy and at other times wise beyond his years, Alex was the perfect type of guy to get through this event because he was a regular kid just trying to survive.

His partner for half of the novel Darla, worked well to contrast him. Darla grew up on a farm and understands the importance of survival at any means necessary. She gets the hardships of having to work for everything. While Alex would prefer to try and help as many people as he can, Darla knows they can't afford to and often reminds him. I liked the contrast of personalities especially since the hardened person was the female. It was a nice reversal of roles and added some interest. I believed in Darla and Alex's relationship because of the slow, steady way they grew to know each other and the hardships they were forced to endure. Again, it's interesting to read what these character's will cling to when they are striped down to nothing. By the end of this novel, I felt like I knew what both of these characters were made of. I did get a little uncomfortable with how obsessed Alex became with sex for a bit of the novel but it wasn't enough to hinder their relationship.

It's hard to fall in love with this novel because of how much horror is in it. I know that I ripped through the pages, gasping as every new layer of terror fall on these characters I really like. I know that I'd pull the blanket tighter around myself of Alex and Darla shivered in the snowy weather and thanked my lucky stars for the bottle of water in my hand as Alex ran out. I blanched at the lows some of the people in the novel stooped to and I rejoiced at the simple kindness of others. Everything might be in ash but Mr. Mullin worked to show that for as much darkness as there is in the human heart, there is also good. Both natures come out in equal in almost every person.

What scares me is how realistic Ashfall is. I didn't like meeting new people on the road, going from one town to another just to see new ways people can suffer. I keep using the word "horror" because it's one of the only ways to describe what happens in this novel. But what comes out of it is something beautiful. My only problem was that the story felt a bit long. I think there were places where it could have been trimmed pre-Darla and the FEMA camp dragged on for my taste. Not enough for me to put the book down and never pick it up but I did feel a little restless. This won't stop me from picking up the next novel in this series. I can't wait to figure out how Darla and Alex are going to survive and what happened to Alex's parents.

Ashfall blends the gritty atmosphere with the darkness in every human and the timbre of a person that is willing to overcome that darkness even in dire times. Each page brings some new worry or horror that the characters must face but it is their perseverance and refusal to give in that makes this debut shine. At the end of this novel, the ash will still be stuck in your hair but you'll feel accomplished and hopefully, making the entire, spine-tingling journey completely worth it.



  1. God, this book was albeit brilliant but so depressing! The thing is usually you can blame the horrors on some evil like in The Ashes or Dark Inside, but here it's just dear old humanity at its worse, and that's what so scary, - that people can be so evil on their own. Great review, Amber!

  2. If it seemed realistic to you >_< Im gonna have nightmares! Too much horror for me but it could do a perfect Halloween read >=9

    thanks for sharing Amber!! great review =9


  3. I'm glad you enjoyed this I was completely captivated by this book I loved it all. I agree that Alex was a really well developed and strong character. He was perfect for the story.

    Xpresso Reads

  4. I was freaked out when I read your review of this book. I had never heard of this book before and about two weeks ago I had a nightmare about every volcano in the world erupting at the same time. In my dream the news reporters were saying that this was the end of the world. It seemed so real that I woke up shaking and crying.
    I don't know if I should read this book.


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