Published October 11, 2011.
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. (goodreads.com)
I’ve known about the caldera for a while so when Mike approached me to review ASHFALL, it was an instant yes. How I missed this one in my NetGalley wandering, I have no idea but Mike was kind enough to send me a copy and OMG am I glad he did.
The first couple of chapters were absolutely horrifying. Like literally had me shaking, horrifying. The thing is, I think what made it really horrifying is that this is something that’s going to happen. Not if, but when. We have no idea and we can only pray to whatever god exists that we’ll have some kind of warning sign to help prepare us but that doesn’t make it any more palatable. Knowing that a popular tourist attraction can and will annihilate us can tend to keep one up at night.
The story is told from the POV of Alex and almost immediately it starts into the destruction in Iowa from the erupting volcano. Alex’s house gets hit by a volcano-projected meteor, nearly trapping him inside of it. It’s a total down-slide from there but the sheer resilience of this kid is absolutely astounding. Of course he had help along the way (he’d literally be dead if he didn’t) but his will to reconnect him with his family was so strong that he pushed on to walk from Iowa to Illinois to find his parents and sister that were only supposed to be away for a weekend. You see Alex start from a little boy (despite his 15 (16?) years) and morph into this young man that can field dress a pig and survive the elements.
Of course, Darla helped him along there. If it wasn’t for her, Alex would have been left at the curb well before the end of the book. Darla starts off overly strong but it’s a logical strong. It’s not the type of attitude where it’s ‘I can do anything better than you’ but more like ‘holy crap, we don’t have enough food to feed a drifter, we need to think of ourselves first.’ Her logic really grounds out Alex’s inherent altruism that, at times, can really bite them in the ass. What’s even better is when they actually point out his stupid altruism. Self-deprecation is always a win for me.
But Darla functions as his rock and, quite frankly, it’s nice and refreshing to see the boy having to get rescued time after time after time in a story. Not that Alex is a little pansy weakling but Darla’s a farmhand. Her ability to survive and adapt is a little better than his. And the relationship they form is something unlike what I’ve seen in other books. I liken is to Alex in Ilsa Bick’s ASHES and her relationship with Tom. ASHFALL’S Alex’s relationship with Darla is a little more intense but there’s something purer about it. Their survival depends on each other. They actually have to work at it. Where they are didn’t come free. They earned every second of it and, for me, that makes it that much sweeter and far less lust-at-first-sightish.
As I said before, this book had me shaking. The setting was realistic to the point where I could feel the ash on my skin, taste it in my mouth, hear the roaring of the erupting volcano. And the fact that it actually reads accurate makes it all the more realistic. I had a little bit of issue with how the military was portrayed (I could ask soldier boy for clarification, just haven’t gotten around to it yet). The whole situation seemed a bit dramatized for the sake of, well, drama. Although I do know that true martial law is quite possibly one of the most horrifying things on the planet and while they’d get shit done, it’d be at the sacrifice of a lot of people, the individual actions of the soldiers that Alex and Darla interacted with just didn’t seem right to me. They just seemed far too douchy. I am a touch biased but I’d like to think that even in martial law, most soldiers would maintain a modicum of humanity and douche nozzles like those guys would be the exception, not the norm. That could just be me being hopeful. Like I said, I could get more accurate clarification on that but it’s based in hypothetical, technically. There’s some experience there when dealing with vets so I guess it’d be a little less hypothetical than normal.
ASHFALL was easy to read and while I felt, at times, it read a little too simplistically (I would have liked some greater detail in some parts, less inane description in others), it made its point. It got Alex’s story across without flowery prose and without pretense. I really felt like I was reading about Alex from Alex. For the most part I didn’t read the book and feel like I was reading anyone other than Alex (there were a few times where I felt the wording was a bit out of character but not enough to have a major effect).
The best part, I think? There’s nothing paranormal about ASHFALL. No zombies, no mutant hybrids. Just science. The earth’s biggest zit explodes and this is the aftermath of that. Really, people losing their minds was scary enough. And that’s what made this book really hit home: just how real it was, and could be. You don’t close the book and go whew! That was freaky! Glad I don’t have to worry about it. You close the book when you’re done and go, oh shit. I need to stock up on bottled water. The lack of anything paranormal, to me, makes it all the scarier because it’s that much more rooted in reality.
For apocalyptic stories, ASHFALL comes in second to ASHES by Ilsa Bick for me. Everything that happens is based on science, nothing seems out of place and at the end it’ll leave you shaking just a little bit harder than when you started. The ending leaves a few things open but the sequel comes out next year so you won’t be left hanging for long. Yet another apocalyptic book that I’m proud to say rockets itself up and over nearly everything else that’s out there. Read it and get scared.
Ban Factor: Medium – There is premarital sex but it’s fade to black and I believe subtle enough that the banners wouldn’t be smart enough to pick up on it. Swearing’s on the low side but it’s there a little. If anything I think it’d be the sex that’d kill it but they’d be happy about the Christianity (not that it’s a Christian book).
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