The story begins with our protagonist Alex getting what he wants, a weekend alone while his nagging mother, distracted father, and annoying little sister go and visit his uncle's family in Warren, Illinois. Unfortunately, Alex isn't even alone a day before the house is set on fire and he is nearly killed. What happened? Something very big and very hot had crashed through the roof of his home and into his sister's empty bedroom and as it turns out Alex's home isn't the only place on fire, there is smoke rising up throughout the entire neighborhood.
It doesn't take very long for the situation to get from bad to worse after the sky is darkened and filled with ash and Alex makes the tough decision to walk the solo journey to find his family.
Well the journey isn't easy as to be expected when there are no cars to catch a ride on because all of their engines have been ripped apart by ash, or when food runs out because there is a shortage in supplies and people start getting desperate and doing desperate things. There was no telling what would happen to Alex as he made the trip and all throughout his journey I would fill up with tension whenever he would encounter a person because there was no way to know how this person would treat him. Was he in danger or was he safe? Would they help him or would they hurt him?
The many different reactions to the natural disaster were so varied yet all possible that it was obvious that Mr. Mullin had done his research and not only in the social and economic fallout of such a scenario but in the actual cause itself and he did a great job in applying it to the story that it didn't feel at all like I was reading a text book.
But now on to why I really enjoyed reading Ashfall - the characters. Alex may have started off as a kid who liked to keep himself in his room playing World of Warcraft but he grows right before the reader's eyes becoming someone you could depend on and someone who could survive without loosing his humanity. Also, the kid had a black belt in tae kwon do. I'll refrain from squeeing and being fangirly but if your character knows any kind of martial art he is instantly cool in my eyes especially if he doesn't perceive himself as cool. Tae kwon do didn't define Alex it was just a part of who he was and it sure saved his butt on many occasions.
Darla was also another great character, we meet her along the way and she was the rational, tough love opposite to Alex's bleeding heart. Where Alex almost seemed to dig himself into a whole to help those in desperate need Darla was the level headed realist who kept things afloat. A true self-sufficient person who proves herself through her actions Darla is a person I would want on my side in any dire situation.
Anyway to wrap things up because I've talked too long, Ashfall is a well thought out speculative tale that shows the grim reality of how far people are willing to go to stay alive but it also shows the hopeful truth that despite the situation people can still choose to be kind.