Saturday, February 23, 2013

Ashfall - Mike Mullin

Title: Ashfall
Author: Mike Mullin
Publisher: Tanglewood Publishing, 2012 (Paperback)
Length: 456 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Apocalyptic Fiction/Dystopian Fiction
Started: February 19, 2013
Finished: February 23, 2013

From the back of the book:

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 due 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.

I love apocalypse stories but don't see them very often with the recent rise in dystopian fiction. I love a good dystopia, but sometimes I like seeing exactly how the society got to that point, something which is often glossed over in dystopian fiction. Hence why I picked up Ashfall, plus you can't beat a realistic apocalypse (aka natural disaster), it makes it eerily applicable.

Alex is a frustratingly average almost 16-year-old: ignores his nagging mom, plays WoW, does taekwondo, and thinks his sister's a pain in the butt. He's a decent kid though and his average-ness works for this story, because characters with distinct advantages aren't as interesting in scenarios like this. In the aftermath of the volcanic eruption in the span of a few hours, Alex goes from carefree Friday evening to watching his house on fire and spending the night with his neighbours (yay for the GLBT couple!). It's amazing how quickly he adapts and how decisive he is once he makes the move to venture out.

I thought Darla was incredibly awesome. Slightly rough around the edges, intelligent, mechanically inclined, saves Alex on numerous occasions (to Alex's credit, he saves Darla just as often, I like equal opportunity rescuing), and not afraid to get her hands dirty. She meets my criteria for a good YA female role model, so it was nice to see such a strong character accompany Alex.

This book covered humanity's descent into chaos fairly quickly, and it's not pretty. Violence, rape, killing of animals, military rule, violation of rights, you name it it's in here. I loved how realistic the portrayal is, because let's face it, if English class teaches us nothing else it's that humanity abandons all civility in the absence of rules and order; however more sensitive readers need to be aware of the severity of the content here (even I had a hard time with the rape scene). There's also sexual content regarding Alex and Darla, but it is portrayed very responsibly (and they're both super cute together) so it's unlikely to offend everyone's sensibilities.

Well-written, realistic plot with excellent characters; makes for a thrilling read. Warning for extreme violence and sexuality, so sensitive readers beware. This is the first of a trilogy, so I'll definitely be picking up the other two (second one is out now).

Thoughts on the cover:
The picture above is the redesign for the paperback edition, and the sequel has a similar cover. I definitely like the redesign over the original, this one actually looks like an adult best-seller, I would never have thought it was YA just by looking at it.

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