Monday, January 20, 2014

Review: Ashfall - Mike Mullin

Ashfall by Mike Mullin
Series: Ashfall Trilogy #1
Genre: YA, post-apocalyptic
Published on October 11, 2011
Published by Tanglewood Press
Pages: 466
Read From: 1.11.14 - 1.17.14

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 alone for the weekend means freedom from his parents and the chance to play computer games and hang out with his friends without hassle from his mother. Then the supervolcano erupts, plunging him hometown into a nightmare of darkness, ash, and violence. Alex begins a harrowing trek, searching for his family and finding help in Darla, his travel partner. Together they must find the strength and skills to survive and outlast an epic disaster.


Cover Blurb: Yes or No? As simplistic as it is, I do actually really like the cover art. Maybe because it follows a theme throughout the entire trilogy. I don't know; there's just something about it that caught my attention.

Characters: Alex is a pretty cool protagonist, despite his guy-ness (no mistaking the fact that he's a guy). He's remarkably resourceful, very grateful for the rare bit of help he receives, and pays in kind to anyone he comes across, even if he really can't afford to share his provisions. He also knows how to take care of himself when it comes to a fight. I have a real appreciation for characters who can do all of that. Probably what's even more surprising is the fact that I liked Darla as well. She's very pushy - bordering on Attitude - but it somehow just worked for her. Added to that is the fact that Darla has reason to be cocky: she's anything but useless. She knows how to keep a farm running, scavenge food, and build useful items out of scrap. And she's not some sexy chick who just happens to speak mechanics, either; she's and believable farmgirl who knows what she needs to to survive. That said, she's also not afraid to rely on Alex's skills when hers fails. And while Alex is always commenting on how is embarrasses him to be outstripped by Darla, he still seems to take it pretty well. Darla is at first pretty rough-tongued with Alex, but I really cannot say that I blame her. Given the circumstances, I wouldn't trust some random guy showing up on my front porch needing food. And after she gets to know him, her brusqueness becomes more teasing.

The Romance: Ah, but of course, there's a romance. There's always a romance. And at first, I actually didn't mind it. Alex falls pretty hard to Darla, but that's only to be expected, and it was a little amusing. Darla shrugs him off, but not for long. After a traumatic experience, Alex becomes the only person Darla can depend on, and that creates a very strong attachment between them. Maybe it's the circumstances that kept the romance from feeling like it went too fast. A traumatic experience such as what these two teens go through would create a bloody strong bond in a short amount of time - a bond that could be relied on. However, as soon as Darla turns her attention to having sex, and all Alex can think about is getting condoms so he doesn't accidentally get Darla pregnant, the romance felt pretty bloody shallow. Guys, you just survived a massive volcano eruption that has entirely changed life as you once knew it. You're running low on food and water, practically everyone you meet wants to kill you - and you're seriously thinking about getting into each other's trousers?! Seriously?!

Plot: When Alex's parents go off for a weekend without him, he's thrilled. Now he can spend all his time playing World of Warcraft, hanging out with friends, and eating junk food - all without the hassle of his mother. But Alex's peaceful afternoon is violently interrupted when the supervolcano at Yellowstone National Park erupts. The days turn into permanent nights of raining ash and unbearable noise. Electricity is cut off, phones and cars go completely dead - contact with anyone outside of his neighborhood is completely gone. Nevertheless, Alex decides to hike out of his hometown and find his parents, to make sure they're okay. But venturing out into the ash and a mass of very desperate people is no easy task. The air is unbreathable, neighbors Alex has known as his life will do anything for food and fresh water, and an early and harsh winter is on its way. Alex can trust no one, and yet he may not survive if he doesn't. But can he truly risk it? I have to admit that a lot of disaster stories don't much intrigue me, but this one for some reason did. Okay, okay, I'll tell the truth - I was lucky enough to get a chance to read an ARC for Book #3 in the trilogy - Sunrise - but of course I can't anything out of order. So I just had to read Book #1 and #2. Turns out I'm glad I did, because I actually really enjoyed Ashfall! A terrifying beginning, and a story of survival against unimaginably harsh conditions, it was hard to put down . . . . For about 200 pages. Hit the 250+ mark, though, and I started to get bored. I mean, let's face it - there's only so many ways one can tell about a character slogging through ash, getting stuck in ash, running out of food and water, finding kindly (and not so kindly) farmsteads, building shelters, and peeing. Oh my gosh, the amount of peeing in this book was ridiculous! We get it - peeing would be one real chore in such circumstances as this book presents us, but do we really need to know every blessed time that Alex needed to pee? Either the Author should have added more instances of cannibals, not killed off his deranged escaped criminal as soon as he did, or just parred this book down by a couple 100 pages.

Believability: This is where Ashfall really won out. Disaster scenarios are fun - they make better movies than books, because one really does need awesome CGI to make a disaster scenario interesting. But disaster scenarios are also rather silly and not to be taken seriously at all, especially since most are like The Day After Tomorrow (and if you like that movie, that's fine, but even you can't say that you took it seriously). Ashfall, however, presents Readers with a scarily plausible situation. Supervolcanos aren't something to roll one's eyes at. A regular volcano alone can cause quite a bit of havoc, such as grounding flights in an entirely other country, but a supervolcano - well, it's not called "super" for nothing. I'm of course not saying that there aren't holes in Ashfall - there always is, and it's difficult to predict the extent - or the kind - of havoc a supervolcano could cause. But the Author comes up with some good ones, and it's quite frankly a little scary.

Writing Style: First person, past tense. There was nothing special about the narration. I was all right with being inside Alex's head - he was funny, even if he did spend a lot of time oogling Darla and mention every time he needed to pee (honestly; boys). But it was nothing special. The Author could have laid off on mentioning bad breath as often as he did, too.

Content: 6 g--damns, 2 s-words. There is a rape scene (pg. 200), though there are no details at all, and it is interrupted. Of course, it is very obvious what is going on - but again, without being explicit. The violence is at times rather gristly. And there's a gay couple in the beginning of the book, but it didn't feel like the Author was shoving any personal opinions down my throat, so it didn't bother me too much.

Conclusion: Can we say abrupt? What I would like to see in Book #2: more world building. Darla and Alex are pretty in the dark about everything that's going on in the outside world, which makes sense. I mean, they've had no way of finding anything out. And because the Reader is following these two characters along, they, too, are going to be in the dark. But some things definitely need to be explained in Book #2, such as what exactly is the government up to? How much has the rest of the world been affected by the supervolcano? If food is scarce everywhere (as it is implied at one point), then one can assume it's affected the rest of the world pretty severely. But I would like some background information. I want to know why the rescue operation of the more damaged areas has turned more into a totalitarian regime with concentration-like refugee camps rather than an actual rescue attempt. If the Author spends Book #2 answering a lot of these questions, I'll be satisfied, and I might even begin to see how the Author is going to extend this into a trilogy. Because while I liked Ashfall, it did get a little boring towards the end (except at the refugee camp).

Recommended Audience: Guy-read, seventeen-and-up, great for fans of disaster, post-apocalyptic, and survival stories. 

Others in This Trilogy:
2)Ashen Winter

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for visiting The Reading Hedgehog! The hedgie and I love hearing from our readers, so please feel free to leave a comment or question! I always try to reply within a day or two. Please keep all comments civil and clean.