As promised last week, here’s my review of ASHFALL by Mike Mullin. In the interest of full disclosure, Tanglewood Press sent me a review copy of this book a couple weeks ago upon my request. Occasionally, publishers will send me books at no charge, with the agreement being I will post an honest review here and elsewhere. For a rabid bibliophile like me, it just doesn’t get any better than that!
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, on to the review. ASHFALL is quite simply one of the best books I’ve read this year. I find it difficult to believe this is Mullin’s first novel. It is exceptionally well-written, with none of the issues often seen in a first novel, such as head hopping among characters or inexplicable bouncing between plot points. The characters are flesh and blood and it doesn’t take long at all for the reader to begin to care what happens to them.
Alex is fifteen years old and lives with his family in Iowa. After another all too typical battle of wills between teenage son and frustrated mother (any parent of a teen will truly relate), he’s left home alone while his parents and sister go visit relatives 100 miles away in Illinois. He isn’t able to take much advantage of this “vacation” though as his house is destroyed by debris falling from the sky. Taking refuge with his neighbors, he soon learns a volcano under Yellowstone National Forest has exploded, 900 miles away. Tremendous amounts of ash has been jetted into the sky, where it gently falls like snow for days on end. The weather has become unpredictable aside from the days being cold and the nights colder.
Soon, Alex resolves to travel to his uncle’s farm, where his family had gone. He packs what little supplies he can scrounge and sets out on foot. Alex soon learns life on the road isn’t anything like he could have imagined. What people are left are starving and desperate. Without revealing spoilers, let’s just say Alex has his work cut out for him just to survive day to day on his journey.
Along the way, he meets Darla, a farm girl a couple years his senior. She seems to embody many of the things Alex wishes he were — confident, courageous, and possessing of great survival skills. Alex is a black belt in taekwondo and he does use those skills to his advantage several times. He also shows much more bravery than perhaps he’d have given himself credit for in his previous life.
Together, Alex knows he and Darla can survive anything, but that conviction is truly put to the test time and again.
One of the things I truly loved about this book is the realism. It is quite apparent Mullin did his homework, both with understanding what could happen if/when Yellowstone blows but also how folks interact after a disaster of that magnitude. Sure, there will be tons of people taking advantage of a world without the rule of law but scattered here and there are people trying to make the best out of a bad situation.
I cannot say enough good things about this book. It is truly a wonderful read that kept me up at night, turning pages and wishing I didn’t have to work the next morning. Highly recommended. You can find it on Amazon here or in all major bookstores.