Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) The Yellowstone supervolcano nearly wiped out the human race. Now, almost a year after the eruption, the survivors seem determined to finish the job. Communities wage war on each other, gangs of cannibals roam the countryside, and what little government survived the eruption has collapsed completely. The ham radio has gone silent. Sickness, cold, and starvation are the survivors’ constant companions.
When it becomes apparent that their home is no longer safe and adults are not facing the stark realities, Alex and Darla must create a community that can survive the ongoing disaster, an almost impossible task requiring even more guts and more smarts than ever — and unthinkable sacrifice. If they fail . . . they, their loved ones, and the few remaining survivors will perish.
This epic finale has the heart of Ashfall, the action of Ashen Winter, and a depth all its own, examining questions of responsibility and bravery, civilization and society, illuminated by the story of an unshakable love that transcends a post-apocalyptic world and even life itself.
Thoughts: Mike Mullin started the Ashfall series with Ashfall, followed it with Ashen Winter, and has now brought the series to its conclusion with Sunrise, a book that spans a suitably large period of time, often cutting out entire months and skipping ahead to a time when the characters’ lives aren’t dominated by the repetitive work of trying to build a life and survive in post-apocalyptic America. Ash from the supervolcano eruption is still plaguing the country, people are struggling to carve out some semblance of life from land that’s covered by ash and ice and where nobody can be trusted because everybody is out to save themselves. I’ve said before that this series is YA survivalist fiction at its finest, and this conclusion to the series is no exception.
Alex and Darla continue to grow closer, and are as dedicated to each other as they have always been. Interestingly, though, their devotion is far from cloying and obsessive, with both of them keeping their own goals in sight and putting survival ahead of romantic sappiness, which honestly, I like to see in fiction because to me that seems far more realistic than the still-trendy obsessive consuming love seen in a lot of YA fiction. Their relationship is believable, and so I can easily get behind it. There’s no love triangle nonsense, there’s no fights over stupid things that causes an irreparable rift in their relationship in an attempt to create tension. There’s enough tension in their lives. They do argue, sometimes over small things and sometimes over large things, but never does it feel like Mullin is trying to create drama for the sake of letting it temporarily carry the story when nothing else is happening. The world they live in has more than enough to advance the story without pointless drama.
Mullin continues to pull no punches when it comes to the more brutal sides of post-eruption life. There is plenty of death, though not quite as much as in previous novels. Instead, there seems to be a greater emphasis on the price paid for continuing to survive. Characters lose limbs, become very ill, are forces to make unpleasant alliances in order to keep from losing what they’ve managed to build for themselves. Food supplies are unstable, nearby towns are refusing to provide help or do what’s needed to keep themselves safe, and Alex finds himself thrown into the middle of things more often than not, going from a boy who fought to keep himself alive to a reluctant politician as he works to convince others to do what needs to be done.
Sunrise isn’t quite as action-packed as the previous two novels in the series, though I won’t lie; there’s still a good amount of action and plenty of tense and bloody moments to keep readers turning the pages. Within Sunrise, as with the rest of the series, lie examples of both the best and the worst of humanity, people who sacrifice themselves for the sake of others, and people who sacrifice others for the same of themselves. It’s clear why Mullin and his books have won awards; Alex’s voice is so lifelike that it’s at times easy to forget that you’re just reading a book, not watching everything unfold from right behind his eyes. But even the slower sections of the novel are still interesting, alternating between dialogue-heavy political and emergency discussions, to descriptions of just how Alex and his friends and family are making do with little and jury-rigging things to make their lives better. It’s not a how-to manual for post-apocalyptic survival, but it has a lot of creative and interesting information that makes me want to praise the author for doing some good research and planning.
The entire Ashfall series is a bit of a departure from my normal reading material. It could be considered speculative, since it deals with an apocalypse scenario and the aftermath thereof, but lacks many other hallmarks of speculative fiction (notably the supernatural element that’s very common in such works). Still, it’s a worthwhile journey with interesting characters who show a good amount of growth as the series progresses. It’s an impressive and mature YA series, from edge-of-your-seat introduction to satisfying conclusion, and it leaves my hands highly recommended.
(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)