Book Review: Ashfall by Mike Mullin

Publisher: Tanglewood Press

Published: 11th October 2011

Format: e-book

Genre: Post Apocalyptic, YA

Recommended Reading Age: 16+

Rating: 8/10

Amazon/Goodreads

‘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.

Ashfall is the story of Alex, a teenage boy left alone for the weekend while his parents visit relatives. When the Yellowstone supervolcano erupts unexpectedly, Alex is determined to reach his parents. He must travel over a hundred miles in a landscape transformed by a foot of ash and the destruction of every modern convenience that he has ever known, and through a new world in which disaster has brought out both the best and worst in people desperate for food, water, and warmth. With a combination of nonstop action, a little romance, and very real science, this is a story that is difficult to stop reading and even more difficult to forget.’

Make no mistake, Ashfall is more than a slightly depressing novel. It’s dingy and bleak and bloody terrifying when you consider Mullin has done his best to create as realistic a picture as possible if the super volcano at Yellowstone National Park were to erupt, which, theoretically, could happen in our lifetime. 

With that cheerful thought in mind, it’s probably best not to read this one if realistic end-of-the-world disasters freak you out. If you’re a fan of post apocalyptic novels, then I think you’ll love it.

I’ve barely read any post apocalyptic novels and I loved it. It’s relentlessly grim, violent, upsetting and unnerving but I couldn’t put it down. Ashfall had a sort of sophisticated feel about it that I really liked and the detail Mullin goes into is amazing. The initial explosions, the deafening high-pitched noise for days on end and the constant falling ash. Then there’s the food and water shortage, no crops, animals sickening, buildings collapsing from the weight, the health problems from the lack of clean air, the drastic climate change. Suddenly you’re living in a world where rationed medicine means the slightest injury could potentially become fatal, where’s it’s every man and woman for themselves.

I found it fascinating.

Not only does Mullin go into incredible detail about the effects of the eruption but he does a good job of exploring human nature as well. Ashfall isn’t a book for younger readers and is very graphic at times. There’s looting, violence, cannibalism and rape, the very worst the human race is capable of. Ashfall is an incredibly sad and horrific story at times, but that’s partly what makes it so gripping, its ugly realism. Ashfall balances this well by showing the goodness too, compassion and kindness, loyalty and strength, rebuilding and working together and the sheer will people have to survive. The events of the novel raise some interesting questions about morality.

I really liked Alex, he grows up a lot by necessity and the progression of his character is handled well. There were moments when he shows a depth of maturity and others when he acted so much like a typical teenage boy (disappointed at not being able to get his hands on condoms), that made me laugh.  I loved his relationship with Darla. They don’t get on at first, for understandable reasons as Darla is angry at being forced into the situation of caring for and using precious medical resources and food on an injured stranger. But they come to rely on and support one another and their friendship and romance happens gradually and realistically. Darla I just loved. She is the epitome of a kick-ass heroine. Resourceful, independent and resilient, she’s saves Alex’s life several times (and he, hers) and I’d want her on my side if the world ever ended. She is feisty and amazing and Alex is totally her toy boy. It was great to read about a female character who uses her intelligence and talents to survive and is not pre-disposed to fall in lust love with the male character on sight. Their growing romance was built on mutual respect and never took precedence over the main focus of the story.

Ashall has an ominous tone that won’t be for everyone, but I really enjoyed it. Alex and Darla face challenge after challenge and I was never quite certain if they would survive. There were times when the story was a little slow, usually when Alex is traveling by himself, but even then these quiet moments served to highlight how incredibly alone Alex is and just added to the overall bleakness of the story. Mullin by all accounts, seems to have put in a lot of research for Ashfall and his take on life in the aftermath of a volcano eruption feels uncomfortably realistic.

*Many thanks to Tanglewood Press and NetGalley for making this book available for review*

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4 thoughts on “Book Review: Ashfall by Mike Mullin

  1. Hrmm that was weird, my comment got eaten. Anyway I wanted to say that it’s nice to know that somebody else also mentioned this as I had trouble obtaining the same info elsewhere. This was the very first place that told me the answer. Thanks.

  2. Mike Mullin does a fantastic job of painting such a vivid portrait of post disaster America. The setting is fantastically disastrous, with everything covered in ash, people fighting for food and water, and people turning on each other left and right. There’s a lot of death, gore, and violence in this book, so if you’re uncomfortable with that kind of thing, then you shouldn’t pick this book up. A lot of really bad things happen to really good people.

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