Many visitors to Yellowstone National Park don’t realize that the boiling hot springs and spraying geysers are caused by an underlying supervolcano. It has erupted three times in the last 2.1 million years, and it will erupt again, changing the Earth forever.
Fifteen-year-old Alex is home alone when the supervolcano erupts. His town collapses into a nightmare of darkness, ash, and violence, forcing him to flee. He begins a harrowing trek in search of his parents and sister, who were visiting relatives 140 miles away.
Along the way, Alex struggles through a landscape transformed by more than a foot of ash. The disaster brings out the best and worst in people desperate for food, clean water, and shelter. When an escaped convict injures Alex, he searches for a sheltered place where he can wait–to heal or to die. Instead, he finds Darla. Together, they fight to achieve a nearly impossible goal: surviving the supervolcano.
Ashfall was a good, engrossing read. It worked well to evoke emotional responses from the reader. Mullin provided a raw view of humanity in a post-apocalyptic world caused by natural disaster, i.e. the volcanic eruption. There was many moments that left me feeling disappointed with the state of the world. Looting, pillage, rape and other undoubtably violent acts were shown to the readers. They were things you expect from the middle ages, not the modern time that Mullin set the book. But he packaged it in a way that worked to show, just because times are different doesn’t mean people are.
Occasionally though there are moments of kindness that help to counterbalance the ugly and evil that is shown. Darla and her mother are just one example of that. Though usually small acts of kindness, they are things that stay with the reader and Alex as they travel on.
The relationship between Alex and Darla is just one way that helps to show, even during this disaster and time there is a chance for something beautiful to happen. Their relationship, however, is not a focus. By keeping it a secondary plot device, it gives their relationship a solid, understated quality that makes it that much easier to appreciate.
Mullin takes the ugly of humanity and exposes it to the reader. By clearly showing how much bad there could be, Mullin gives hope even when there doesn’t seem to be any. Things weren’t all fixed for the characters but there’s that hope gives way to this feeling that things would one day be alright. It’s just the first book, and I think it works well to hook the reader and get them anticipating the next one.
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