ASHFALL (Ashfall #1)
Received from author for review
For a few frantic moments Alex doesn't know what's happening. The roof of his house has collapsed due to a fire that's sprung up seemingly out of nowhere and, left home alone by himself for the weekend, he stumbles to his neighbors' and gets help while trying to figure out how it all started. Then the ash begins to fall and the world goes dark.
Through snippets deciphered from his neighbors' radio Alex learns the supervolcano in Yellowstone National Park has erupted, catapulting his world into chaos. Determined to reach his family 140 miles away, Alex straps on a pair of cross country skis and begins a life-altering journey.
He soon learns that surviving is not merely finding food to eat, water to drink, and shelter from the never-ending ash, but also consists of avoiding other desperate survivors who are far more interested in keeping themselves alive than in helping someone else, and it becomes apparent quickly that the suffocating ash is the least threatening of the challenges he faces.
A truly extraordinary tale of survival, Ashfall shows us just how quickly panic and fear can sink their razor-sharp claws into previously rational and civil-minded people, shredding human decency with the ease of precision blade and leaving behind nothing but the tattered, unrecognizable remains of morality. The darkness resulting from the power outages and the shadows cast by the unrelenting fall of ash act as skeleton keys that unlock the blacker side of human nature, the threat of impending death causing selfishness to spread like an unstoppable disease as simple kindness becomes a ghost of a long distant past. Alex's experience forces us to examine some extremely heavy questions, our minds immediately probing the depths of everything we think we know about who we are to ask whether–were we in this situation–we would rather die as human beings or survive as monstrous shells of the people we used to be. For every act of generosity there are innumerable injustices and horrors inflicted in the struggle to merely exist, and we read Alex’s story breathing a sigh of relief when he stumbles upon the former and quietly seethe with anger when he encounters the latter.
Alex is an outstanding protagonist and narrator, his progression from typical teenage boy to determined survivor and fighter one that has us on the edge of our seats as we wish him all the courage and strength we can muster. Despite the seriousness of the situation he finds himself in, he often has an errant thought or two that causes us to laugh aloud, lifting the weight from our chests ever-so-slightly and rejuvenating us just when we need it most so we can continue with him on his search for his family. His transformation from boy to man despite having only aged several weeks over the course of the story is impeccably depicted, his quick thinking and will to survive causing us to fall a little more in love with him each page, just as his setbacks and his struggles punch us in the gut and knock the wind from our lungs as we suffer with him.
In addition to a truly outstanding narrator, Mr. Mullen also horrifies and fascinates us simultaneously with his world of ash and ice, making every element feel so very real we often find ourselves holding our breath as though we might catch a lungful of sulfur-smelling particulates should we suck in any air, and we repeatedly glance up from our reading just to make sure the safety of our environment is still intact. Part of the reason this tale sweeps our feet from under us is the inclusion of so many little details about Alex’s day to day survival, with basic human necessities such as going to the bathroom not glossed over or swept aside as obvious occurrences, and we truly begin to realize just how much we rely on our modern conveniences when we see the thought and effort put into simply staying alive and functioning without them.
Ashfall is an epic tale of a 100+ mile journey in unfathomable conditions with a little romance and humor mixed in to counteract the darkness as we all put one foot in front of the other to put one more mile under our belts. Mr. Mullin never fails to continually remind us however that at no point is Alex’s safety a guarantee, and we can only endure what happens to good people when the need to survive eclipses everything else without actually being able to change it. We are left with still fairly bleak conditions though hope for the future makes its presence known, and I for one cannot wait for the next installment so I can see how Alex handles whatever is thrown his way next.