Review: Ashfall (Ashfall #1) by Mike Mullin

Rating: *** / 3 out of 5 
Genres: Young Adult, Survival, Post-Apocalyptic, Horror
Published October 11, 2011 by Tanglewood Press

Many visitors to Yellowstone National Park don’t realize that the boiling hot springs and spraying geysers are caused by an underlying supervolcano, so large that the caldera can only be seen by plane or satellite. And by some scientific measurements, it could be overdue for an eruption.

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 seach 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.


Actual rating would be 3.5 stars.

First off, living in the Pacific Ring of Fire, I know first-hand that volcanoes are scary and bat-shit crazy. They don’t just spew large quantities of hot ash and sulfur dioxide when they erupt, they also tend to trigger mudslides and lava flows that can bury towns and villages. In the province where I live in the Philippines, a town that was miles away from the “perfectly-coned shape” Mayon Volcano got buried after an explosive eruption happened more than a century ago – so bad that only half of the bell tower of the local church survived. A few years ago, history repeated itself, and this time, only a little girl barely lived, saved by holding onto a palm leaf on top of a frickin’ coconut tree. They’re as scary as earthquakes and tsunamis, and believe me, you wouldn’t want to be near one.

With that said, I really have no idea about volcanoes in Yellowstone – nada. I mean, compared to the knowledge I’ve accumulated of our hundred volcanoes here, anyway. I was quite puzzled that it only spewed copious amounts of ashfall (given that my knowledge of such is different based on experience) and probably sulfur dioxide, so it should be no surprise that I expected more chaos and disorder in the setting. But that failed expectation is not why I didn’t give this 4-5 stars.

Alex, the main character, IS likeable. He has a nice voice and can be funny, calculating and reflective. I enjoyed reading his internal monologue, although there were times he seemed a bit boring, but a decent character nonetheless. His goal to find his family was endearing at first, but being the practical person that I am, would sometimes feel uneasy about him mentioning it again and again when he already was showered upon good fortune – like finding a house full of pigs (mmm, bacon in a post-apocalyptic event!), or a warehouse with tons and tons of wheat that could feed a community for years. I thought, “Why venture into the unknown when you can live comfortably here?!” but maybe that’s just me being a pansy, or highly likely just me being realistic.

I also felt uneasy about him being unreasonably kind. I’m generous in nature, sometimes even gallant about it, but that’s only when I know I can spare some resources for you and still be contented with what I have left. If it was an entirely different situation, say, an APOCALYPSE, which is already a damn serious crisis in itself, I wouldn’t give any supplies for free to anyone aside from my family and companions, unless, of course, I have it in abundance. I wouldn’t give anything to anyone at all when I’m uncertain I’ll be able to last with what I have in the upcoming days. It’s every man for himself out there, and I always get frustrated when heroes and heroines dish something out for others in a crisis out of the goodness of their hearts. It’s not that it’s wrong, it’s just not logical (for me, anyway). Alex, in this case, reasoned out he wouldn’t have survived if others didn’t help him, so he’s just returning the favor… with what? His super limited supplies? T_T No, son, you must’ve misunderstood. They helped you because they had the resources to spare; otherwise, they wouldn’t give a shit. That’s the frickin’ difference.

Fortunately, there’s Darla, the other character who had her annoying moments, but a better, over-all character compared to Alex. She’s 2 years older than him, is feisty, farm-smart (lol, my attempt to describe someone flexible in farm stuff), and downright amazing. She’s like the more reasonably side of Alex – him being stupid sometimes, and her being outspoken about the stupid things he does. Sometimes, she just takes the words out of my mouth and spats it out to Alex instead. Haha. She’s very strong, capable, and I really like her. I think she’s the one that brings color to this book, and hopefully we’ll see more of her in the next installment.

Onto other stuff, there were times the pace and progression of this book was slow and boring. There would be small parts here and there repeating the same things – another night in the woods, all of them ending with Alex either sleeping a little better, or having difficulty at it. There were tidbits of info here and there that were not necessary, but were included, anyway, like that WoW (World of Warcraft) reference at the beginning. Sure, it can be funny at times, and of course, there is romance, but the story isn’t about it at all, and any references to it were just passing (the hints of them about to do sexy time though we’re highly amusing and very… teenager-y). It explores themes seen in many apocalyptic books – the lack of social order and the consequences of it, and what the human person could do if there is no social contract binding them, and no more police and judicial functions to stop them. It’s scary and disturbing.

Overall, it was a decent read. Yes, those problems I’ve encountered were absolutely subjective, so if you’re reading this review and contemplating whether to get this or not, I say go ahead and do it. It’s a good post-apocalyptic novel with a rather original premise with promising characters. If the things I just said do not frustrate you, then this very well may be your cup of tea.

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A 21 years old Filipina who loves books, games, languages, and most especially, food. Secretly wishes to be an astronaut so she can explore the stars. Has a love-hate relationship with Philippine politics. To get in her good graces, offer her Foie Gras, Or shrimp. Or a JRPG. A YA sci-fi book works, too. You can follow her on twitter here: @kawaiileena


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  1. says

    Great review! :) I’ve read it and I did enjoy it, although I haven’t gotten around to Ashen Winter yet. I do intend to. Ashfall just didn’t leave me wanting enough to pick it up the first chance I had. I have no experience with volcanoes nor am I very knowledgeable about them. But I do tend to agree that I felt there should have been a bit more chaos, or at least more… tension, maybe. Alex was definitely too nice to everyone in this situation, but Darla helped balance that out. I loved Darla’s character. :)

    Thanks for sharing!
    Brandy @ A Little of the Book Life

    • says

      Thank you for reading my review! I have Ashen Winter here, but didn’t know it was the second book so I had to read Ashfall right away to get to it! Haha. Yeah, there definitely should have been more chaos and tension, and maybe even a town wiped out due to pyroclastic flows (not sure if that’s possible with a yellowstone volcano) – would’ve made things more interesting.

  2. Karen H in NC says

    Thanks for your review. Sounds like the author didn’t research the volcano part of the story as well as he should have. I’ll consider taking a closer look at this book.