SUNRISE is the final installment in the Ashfall series by Mike Mullin. I’ve previously reviewed the other books in the trilogy — ASHFALL and ASHEN WINTER. Tanglewood Press was kind enough to send me an advance copy of SUNRISE for review purposes.
One thing you need to know going in is that you really must read the first two books before diving into this one. While you could read SUNRISE as a standalone novel, you’ll likely feel quite lost. ASHFALL introduced us to Alex, at the time a 15 year old boy who struck out on the road to find his family after the Yellowstone caldera blew. Along the way, he met Darla, a young woman a couple years older than he and possessing of tremendous intellect and creativity. Together, they made for an indomitable team.
In ASHEN WINTER, the tentative peaceful existence Alex, Darla, and Alex’s family had cobbled together was tested in several ways, including the forced separation of Alex and Darla after she was taken prisoner.
SUNRISE concentrates on a rebuilding of society, as Alex and his loved ones begin putting down significant roots. Of course, not all goes as planned. There are threats both from outsiders as well as from within the group. Among the outside threats is Red, a sadistic leader of a group of cannibals and who has taken over a nearby town. Trust me when I say that Red tests Alex and Darla more than any other threat they’ve encountered.
As the story has progressed through the three books, Alex has matured into an effective leader. He becomes the person everyone looks to for guidance and who makes the hard decisions. He struggles with this role, as it sometimes prevents him from taking direct action and instead having to allow others to do so in his place.
What started as a small family farm and perhaps a dozen people eventually blossoms into a community of over a thousand, all working together to build sustainable means of food production, water acquisition, even electricity. Naturally, with such an endeavor, there are numerous obstacles along the way. Alex learns the hard way how politics is alive and well, even in this post-apocalyptic world.
What I found particularly interesting with the overall story arc is how it mirrors the development of many preppers in the real world. I don’t know if the author intended that or not but it is certainly there, if you pay attention.
Preppers often start their planning with assembling bug out bags and determining where to flee in the event of disaster. It is very typical that many of these folks actually plan to just run to the hills and live something of a nomadic existence. This is mirrored by Alex’s journey from home to find his family in ASHFALL.
As preppers mature, many realize that such a plan is doomed to failure in the long run. So, they begin to figure out ways they can shelter at home. They also often begin to network with people in the immediate area. This is sort of what happens in ASHEN WINTER, where Alex and company begin settling down at the farm and exploring means of making life easier. They are joined there by a few other people who seek the same things.
Finally, we reach the opposite end of the prepper development arc, where rather than looking to a life on the road, the prepper looks to be a member of a community. There, truly sustainable living endeavors can happen, such as growing crops and building long-term food stores. There is safety in numbers, as is made evident more than once in this final book, SUNRISE.
As with the other books, SUNRISE is exceptionally well written. The dialogue rings true, as do the characters’ actions and motivations. The story pulls the reader along, resulting in compulsive page turning until way after bedtime. I highly recommend the entire Ashfall series.
SUNRISE might complete the Ashfall series but I truly and deeply hope it does not conclude the author’s writing career. I’m already looking forward to seeing what other stories Mike may have to tell.