Series: Ashfall #1
Published by Tanglewood Press on October 11th 2011
Genres: Young Adult, Science-Fiction, Post Apocalyptic
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.
For Alex, being left alone for the weekend means having the freedom to play computer games and hang out with his friends without hassle from his mother. Then the Yellowstone supervolcano erupts, plunging his hometown into a nightmare of darkness, ash, and violence. Alex begins a harrowing trek to search for his family and finds help in Darla, a travel partner he meets along the way. Together they must find the strength and skills to survive and outlast an epic disaster.
Mike Mullin took the apocalyptic scenario of the supervolcano beneath the Yellowstone National Park errupting, which geologists foresee to be a likely event, and turned it into a tale of survival and coming-of-age with his debut novel Ashfall. I stem from a family interested in environmental change and I have seen countless speculative documentaries, so I was excited to see this scenario come to life in a YA novel. Though the novel is not especially well executed, I regard this environmental disaster as a topic of utmost importance.
After having read Ashfall, here’s what I know for sure:
1) Girls called Darla kick ass (though Finding Nemo has taught us otherwise)
2) Starvation turns humans into greedy beings without the slightest sense of morals.
3) In the wastelands, kale will have more value than money.
4) I really need to take a taekwondo class before the apocalpyse.
5) If that supervolcano ever errupts, we’re pretty damn screwed.
The prose was rather simple, not much to look at for a seeker of beautiful writing, but for this apocalyptic YA book, it did okay. From a scientific point of view, I thought this book was well researched, for example the prognosis of sulfur ashfalls, which also inspired the title of the book. The plot commenced with a lot of action and a fast pace, but as it progressed, I started feeling like Alex wading through the sticky sulfur-infested snow, which means: Barely moving along. In spite of the slow pace, I kept going as I needed to find out what had happened to Alex’s family who were not with him when the supervolcano errupted. The agony of not knowing was palpable, as were most emotions felt by the characters really. In this tale of survival, Alex needs to grow up quickly and take responsibility after the ash begins to fall. Alex is a likeable character, and seeing as male first narrators seem to be a rare thing in the YA genre these days, I was all the more excited to witness the catastrophic events from his point of view. However, it’s Darla who really charmed me, as she adds a lot of spice to this otherwise brothy soup.
“For the first time ever, I felt ashamed of my species. The volcano had taken our homes, our food, our automobiles, and our airplanes, but it hadn’t taken our humanity. No, we’d given that up on our own.”
Ashfall sends a message similar to The 5th Wave: If volcanos errupt, tsunamis sweep across our coasts, or aliens land on plant Earth, the human race is fucked twice. First by a foreign force, second by its own nature. There were a lot of brutal scenes where I wanted to break people’s necks (check point 2 for reference), and then there were those that made my eyes glossy with tears. The suffering was portrayed well, in my opinion, not like those YA books in which characters lose a next of kin or a friend and march on as though nothing had happened.
This book is fright-inducing with its portrayal of a fairly realistic scenario. In terms of scariness, Ashfall is a firework. In terms of prose and pacing, not so much. In my opinion, one of the book’s flaws was that it was simply too long for this kind of content. Though I enjoyed the setting Mullin chose for his debut novel, the plot unravelled sluggishly slow and the writing was not my cup of tea at all.