Also see my review for ASHFALL, ASHEN WINTER, and DARLA'S STORY
Sunrise by Mike Mullin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
There are few YA series I've enjoyed as much as the ASHFALL SERIES, concluding with the satisfying story in SUNRISE. Both Alex and Darla have taken an incredible journey from the beginning in ASHFALL where the Yellowstone Super Volcano erupts, disrupting the lives of nearly everyone in America, depending on their proximity to the epicenter of the volcano. Sections of the country are cordoned off by color, isolating any survivors, and making travel difficult. In ASHFALL, both Alex and Darla travel far from home and discover themselves and what they are made of in overcoming the very real threat of survival through all the dangers and trials the eruption brings into their lives. Together, they overcome weather related risks (the cold, hypothermia) and human ones (the camp, people willing to kill or be killed), and face the struggle to survive (lack of food, the effects of the eruption) among others.
In ASHEN WINTER, the cold temperatures continue, and Alex and Darla set out in search of Alex's parents in order to reunite his family so he can make an uncertain future more certain with his family together again. ASHEN WINTER further develops the need to survive and overcome every trial, as the human condition devolves into cannibalism, human trafficking, and martial law. Food is even more scarce, and finding ways to cultivate essential resources (especially those high in Vitamin C) become even more challenging for Alex and Darla. Not only that, but through various circumstances (as alluded to in the covers) Alex and Darla become separated and Alex is further challenged to find a way to rescue Darla and his parents. In fact, he's often torn between these, at times, disparate choices.
In SUNRISE, I was impressed by the new levels of change, challenge, and survival explored through Alex and Darla as well as the many continuing and returning characters comprising the details this series is known for. I love reading about the mechanics of farming and machinery, the proper use and safety of weapons and military battle tactics, the growing and managing of crops, resources, and food from surprising places. I enjoyed seeing the long-term survivors realize the need for order, community, safety and government at its most basic level.
The dangers faced in ASHEN WINTER continue to plague the lives of Alex and Darla and those who decide to place their loyalty in Alex's young, but capable hands. Alex's leadership, although a tenderfoot at the end of ASHEN WINTER, and the beginning of SUNRISE, further develops in extraordinary ways. This does not come without a cost, and what a cost both Alex and Darla must pay in order to establish a community that can sustain long-term life for a growing population, depending on their skills and expertise to continue.
A new and deadly force is discovered among those who have degraded humanity among the Flensers (cannibals), Dirty White Boys (gangs who traffick others), and in Red, the Stockton leader who has reverted to the "old ways" and a wicked array of knives and blades. Red lives by an "eye for an eye" and has several run ins with Alex as the need for food causes surviving communities to attack one another for survival.
When Alex's own family begins to unravel and fall apart, Alex struggles to find a way to hone his political skills to not only lead his people, but find a way to sustain a future with Darla, a future where marriage and children are possible in a world seemingly devoid of hope and decency.
SUNRISE is a remarkable tale. I was literally moved to tears (in the early part of the story), when the stark reality of choices made for survival and the good of others becomes the will with which Alex and Darla find new meaning to the essence of survival. Without the help and support of others, and the indomitable belief in Alex and Darla's ability to lead the community of survivors, they would not be able to face the many dangers set before them.
Later on in the story, I was enthralled by the many new discoveries and creative ideas used to grow from a few dozen, to a much larger community of survivors, filled with the hope of tomorrow and the promise of new life in a world that still resembles the one reflected as our own. I identified strongly with Alex and Darla and enjoyed the entire series as it concluded in SUNRISE. Mike Mullin is a masterful storyteller, and I appreciated the way Alex's choices lead to changes in the characters who cross his path, and how this comes back into play when it comes to Alex and those he cares about surviving another day.
I appreciated the message given: survival does not need to come at the cost of losing one's humanity, morals, and convictions to overcome the dangers and risks present in the ASHFALL world. While a part of me is saddened this series has come to an end, I believe this is one that would be enjoyable to read again, and for that, I am grateful.
I look forward to future stories yet untold by Mike Mullins. I highly recommend this series to others. I know myself, my wife, and oldest son have enjoyed this series. It has sparked many a conversation in my house. It makes you think about the amount of time life can be focused on technology and how easily things can be taken for granted. It also shows how love and devotion can lead a determined group of survivors to find a way to overcome any obstacle put before them, even if that obstacle is nature itself.
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