Monday, May 5, 2014

Book Review #22: Ashfall Series by Mike Mullin

About a year ago, my friend and author, Jade Eby, introduced me to the Ashfall series by Mike Mullin. The trilogy takes place in eastern Iowa and northern Illinois after the super volcano that sits under Yellowstone Park explodes burying the Midwest in ash and triggering an extreme winter. For me, this series is gut-wrenchingly realistic.

I live in eastern Iowa and travel frequently throughout eastern Iowa and northern Illinois. My in-laws live in Maquoketa and I've shopped at the Wal-Mart there. I drive over the Highway 13/Highway 20 overpass on the way to see my sister in Minnesota. And in late March, I drove by the Wal-Mart distribution center near Sterling, Illinois and I saw the turnoff on Highway 30 for Stockton.

Since I live in the area and have visited many of the towns Mullin features across all three books, this is the most realistic apocalyptic fiction book I have ever read. He shaped the post-volcano world in such a way that my imagination would start to run wild and I started to ask myself questions as I read each book. What would I do if the super volcano erupted tomorrow? Where would I go? What skills do I have for roughing it?

Another part of what made the series incredibly realistic are the characters. Even the secondary characters like Alex's family and the other people that become integral to moving the story forward are people you want to get to know on a more personal basis. Rita, Worthington's librarian, is strong and determined to keep the library running despite the devastation. She understands that knowledge of all kinds is vital even in a society that is disintegrating. Doc McCarthy, Warren's town doctor, shows tremendous staying power and strength as he watches his patients die from illnesses that had easy solutions in the pre-eruption world. I found my heart aching for Doc and I cheered for Rita.

And of course, the main characters Alex and Darla are A+ teens. They are not too whiny or full of themselves. Their complaints and struggles make sense. Mullin does a wonderful job at using the new world to shape Alex and Darla into people you grow to love and care about. They don't resist being molded in light of their new surroundings. Their experiences, in a world that is falling apart with every step they take, just as they start making headway at creating a new life, in the post eruption world is devastating, heartbreaking and in the end, full of hope. You want them to win. You become their cheerleaders.

Ashfall is a strong setup for the other two books; introducing the main cast of characters, the key locations and the major threats in the post-eruption world in a way that doesn't drag and keeps the action moving forward. Ashen Winter is a great bridge book that allows the characters to grow into their new roles in society and discover what really matters in the here and now when death can be just a heartbeat away. The most powerful moments in the series happen at the end of Ashen Winter, and throughout Sunrise. Near the start of Sunrise, there is a moment that had me crying in my Cheerios (yes, I was reading while eating breakfast). Sunrise is a tense, gut-wrenching series finale. There is more at stake in the final novel and Mullin keeps you guessing if there is any hope remaining for Alex, Darla and the town of Warren until the very end. The Ashfall series by Mike Mullin gets a thumbs up.


Ashfall:
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Ashen Winter:
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Sunrise:
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