Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Review: Ashfall

ASHFALL (Ashfall #1)
Mike Mullin
Young Adult
466 pages
Tanglewood Press
Available Now
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.

Rating: 4.5/5


  1. Wow, that sounds fascinating. Have you seen Into The Wild? It's a wonderful and heartbreaking survival type movie. I keep meaning to read the book. Did you think the romance was necessary? From your description of the plot it sounds like something that is just thrown in because romance "has" to be in YA books.

  2. horrifies and fascinates? That line makes me think of Dark Parties. II was hesitant to pick this up because of the gloomy cover but your review is making me think twice :)

    Krazyyme @ Young Readers

  3. Alison - I haven't seen that, but I do love a good survival story, so I'll have to pick it up:) I thought the romance worked really well in this one, it wasn't a huge aspect, it was more the two of them surviving together which I liked. Horrible things happen to them, so it was nice when they found each other:)

    Krazzyme - Definitely horrifies and fascinates. It was shocking how quickly humanity deteriorated mostly because it wasn't really all that shocking at all given what we're capable of. I was hugely surprised (in a good way) by this one though:)

  4. Ohh great review! I just started it myself and haven't gotten too far yet, but I've already encountered some of the points you mentioned; like the bathroom! I love these kinds of stories, just because we really see how much we rely on those things. After having read Dark Inside by Jeyn Roberts, I couldn't stop thinking about all of those who lost their medications for example... You've definitely made me even more excited to read this one!

  5. YES. I freaking NEED this one so bad it's not even funny! *sigh* so many books and so little time dude.

  6. Oh my gosh, I REALLY want to read this book!!!! We actually were just learning about Yellowstone in my geography class LOL so I knew I wanted to read this one! It sounds like such an intense and awesome book & your review makes me intensely and epically more excited to get my hands on a copy! :)

    Amazing review, Jenny!! I'm seriously debating on going to the bookstore right after school just to get my hands on a copy! x)

    P.S. I love that cover -- it's so cool and actually matched the story! :)

  7. Pretty sure he would have died, but ok it is a book ;) I do like super volcanoes

  8. Oh this might make my 12 YA reads in the new year! I can stand fascinating and horrifying!

  9. Rebecca - Yes! I loved that those things were mentioned because, let's face it, those small personal hygiene things would be issues! So excited to chat with you about it when you get to the end!

    Ashley - SO GOOD! You will love this one I think:)

    Mimi - Yay!!! You are just too adorable, you always leave such excited comments and it makes me happy. I thought this one was amazing, I hope you get a chance to read it!

    Blodeuedd - I don't know, he does a really amazing job of pointing out just how difficult it is for him to stay alive. I'm pretty sure I would have died though:)

    Felicia - YES! It definitely doesn't feel like YA at all and it's such a great story.

  10. I was on the fence about this one but your review convinced me otherwise. I like the sudden sense of urgency and survival that leaps off of your review. Sounds like a great book that even boys would like to read and I'm always on the lookout for those at the library.

  11. I've seen some buzz about this book, but this is the first review I've seen that makes me want to pick the book up. So, thanks for that. :)

  12. Very great review, Jenny - nicely worded! I really wanted to get into this book, but couldn't get past the first 60 pages...You're kind of making me want to give it another shot, though.

  13. Oh, wow! Yeah, I definitely need to get my hands on this one. It sounds amazing! There's just something about apocalypse/survivor stories that's fascinating! Wonderful review as always, Jenny! :)

  14. I haven't read many reviews on this one, but I really liked the cover and synopsis. If you're saying this one was epic, I need to push this one up on my wishlist! Great review, Jenny, as always :)

  15. Rummanah - Yay! Glad you're going to give it a go, and I think it would definitely appeal to male readers:)

    Amanda - You're welcome! It was such a different book from what I'd been reading and I loved it:)

    Lea - Thanks! It took me a while to get into it as well, it wasn't until he was really on his way and met the girl that I started getting addicted.

    Lauren - It was amazing:) I can't imagine trying to do what Alex did!

    Hafsah - I thought it was brilliant:) Hope you pick it up!

  16. I honestly didn't know what to make of this book originally. It looked like some kind of sad tale and I suppose I was procrastinating reading it for that reason. I'm very glad to hear that it isn't what I thought and that you liked it so much. The story actually sounds fabulous and now I'm epically excited to read it! Makes me wish i would have requested it on NetGalley! LOL! Great review, Jenny. You make Alex sound like an amazing narrator!

  17. Is it totally gross that I'm actually exited to read about someone going to the bathroom?

    What have you done to me, Jenny?!

  18. Just started this one! Seems pretty accurate of what would actually happen in this event, from what I learned in school. Very freaky.

    I'm not so much a fan of the writing... I think the endless details into everything Alex does that you mentioned is a bit too much. Then again, maybe it'll grow on me. I do quite like Alex! And I'm also loving how people are depicted in this world, some generous and some horrible, like you say. Very realistic, I think.

  19. Ah! I've been wanting to read this one! You know I keep forgetting that it is also a romance book. Hm... maybe I'll wait until the next one comes out so I can get the both together? Hm...

  20. Ooh, this sounds promising! I loved Jo Treggiari's Ashes, Ashes because of the day-to-day survival element. I think I find that more compelling than Dystopians that feature bizarre technological advances.

  21. These types of stories always get my heart racing because of the hardships and not knowing whether the characters will make it through or not. So I do like to read something like this from time to time.

  22. I know I've said this before...but I love your reviews! I don't how you do it, but you have a way of convincing me to read books that I never thought I would pick up in a million years. I have a mildly specific genre base that I read from - Paranormal (YA and adult), Urban Fantasy, and Fantasy. Normally, I wouldn't pick up a book like Ashfall. But after reading your review, its going to go on my TBR list.

    After having said that, I would like to thank you for all of the reviews you've posted. I realized that in the couple of months since I've started reading this blog, I've come to see your reviews as a kind of spring board for potential books. I realized this the other day in the book store when I picked up a book and wondered "Has Supernatural Snark reviewed this?" and then I thought "Well it looks like this book could go either way, I want to see if Jenny has written about it first".

    Anyways, sorry for the crazy long comment...lol. I just wanted to say thanks for supplying your fellow bibliophiles with wonderful reviews!

  23. Jen - I procrastinated on this one too and I could kick myself. It was dark and terrifying and stifling but I just couldn't put it down:)

    Missie - HAHAHA! I kind of enjoyed the fact that the bathroom part of it was included, usually those things are left out and I'm always wondering how the characters deal with it. I'm not an outdoorsy girl, so going to the bathroom in Alex's situation would be a HUGE issue for me:)

    Aylee - There are definitely a lot of details and it's certainly not a story for everyone. Glad you're enjoying Alex though:)

    Melissa - This one ends nicely even though there's more to come, so it wouldn't be horrible for you if you didn't wait:)

    Ruby - This one is a lot more intense than Ashes, Ashes in my opinion, a little darker and more emotional which I liked:)

    Jenny - Me too. I figured Alex was going to make it since there are multiple books, but it didn't always feel that way while reading.

    LilyKat - Stop with your amazingly sweet comments, you're making me blush!!! Seriously though, I really appreciate you taking the time to comment on my posts and I'm glad they're helpful for you when you're at the bookstore choosing books:) I'm typically a paranormal YA or paranormal romance reader as well (with some urban fantasy mixed in), so this wouldn't have been one that made it on my shelf had it not been sent for review. I'm so glad it was though, because it was really fun for me to read something outside my normal genres! Makes me think I should pick up a few more like it next time at my local B&N:)

  24. I'm glad to comment! I usually don't go for dystopian stories (I read the Giver in high school, and though I loved it, dystopia isn't generally my thing), but I became intrigued by this one because I've done research on what could happen if a super-volcano were to erupt. This is the first YA fiction I've seen about that, and I'm glad its transpired that it was well done.

    I think dystopian novels need to have some sort of realistic air to them so that we, the readers, can have a solid foothold in a world that is so vastly different from our own. Using a situation that is not entirely implausible was a good way for Mr. Mullin to do that. Perhaps I should widen my genre to include various dystopian novels...the only problem is that I would need to buy more book shelves because there are plenty of this genre of book. ;P

  25. I haven't really heard of this one, but it sounds like a great read. This one sounds really different. Great review!

  26. This sounds superb and as though it should gain a lot more publicity - I might just have to check it out! New follower, by the way :)

  27. I keep thinking about picking this one up and somehow it just never makes it to the top of my reading pile. However, you make Alex sound like a really good narrator and I've been looking for more male MCs lately, so I'll have to try to get to it soon! :)

  28. This is on my Kindle and I really need to read it. The world he created sounds creepy and horrifying. I'd hate to live through it (well, I'd probably be one of the first to die...). Realistic post-apocalyptic stories really freak me out. Yay!

  29. What an excellent review, Jenny! If I hadn't already wanted to read this book, it would make me run out and buy it right now. That was so good I just know how much I'm going to love this book!
    Thanks Jenny! You need to print this out and frame it or submit it to the paper. And Mike Mullin definitely should frame it!


  30. It really was an amazing read wasn't it. I'm so glad you enjoyed it too.

  31. Jenny! I can't began to tell you how much I loved this book! I really , really loved it and loved your review!