Ashfall begins with Yellowstone erupting and slowly throwing America into a pro-apocalyptic wasteland. The protagonist Alex had decided to stay home while the rest of his family had gone to see his uncle a pretty far ways away. Hence, with the world falling apart around him, he decides to make the trek to find his family. Along the way he discovers that the most dangerous aspect of the new world he wasn’t the disaster itself, but instead was the people who had seemingly lost their humanity. He ends up being attacked, and finds himself collapsed and dying on a farm occupied by a slightly older girl named Darla and her mother. They nurse him back to health, but are attacked by the same thugs that hurt Alex. They end up killing Darla’s mother and forcing both of them out into the world, and they both end up going on the journey to find Alex’s family. It’s a long trek, where they slowly grow closer, and eventually become a couple. They eventually arrive close to Alex’s uncle’s farm, but are captured by the government contractor Black Lake, who is making sure refugees don’t spill out of the red zones. They are imprisoned and discover horrific conditions in the camp, but ultimately make their escape, arriving at Alex’s uncle’s home. There they find his cousins Anna and Max as well as his sister Rebecca, but discover that Alex’s parents had gone out in search of him.
Following that, Alex and Darla retrace their path and go to search for his parents again. Due to various circumstances, Darla ends up captured by a nearby gang. Alex tries to save her, but ends up saving someone that looks similar, Alyssa, and her genius but lacking common sense brother Ben. He then ends up captured by Black Lake again and put into another camp. There he not only finds his parents, but finds that they are the representatives of the refugees in the camp, and are essentially running things on the inside with what little power Black Lake allows them to have. He wants to go out in search of Darla yet again, but his parents can’t leave as they have a duty to the refugees in the camp, especially in light of recent events with kidnappings attempted by outside gangs that some Black Lake guards seem to allow in exchange for bribes. However, Ben comes up with a plan for defeating the gang in their strong hold, which he provides to a Black Lake commander in exchange for their freedom. The plan works and the gang is mostly defeated, however Darla had already been sold to another gang. They come up with a plan for saving her that involves deception and pretending to be trading Alyssa as a slave, that manages to succeed somewhat, though they all (Alex, his parents, Alyssa, Ben, and Darla) end up in a car chase, that Alex’s father ultimately gives his life to end, saving everyone else. They return to their uncles farm, and find an entire tent city had popped up, as the nearby cities inhabitants had been kicked out.
This ultimately results in a battle to take back control of the town. However, the mayor of the town is grossly incompetent, and ultimately, Alex is the one that leads them into the battle that takes back the town. However, even afterwards, the mayor continues to lead incompetently, which leads to tension between him and Alex. Ultimately, elections for the position of mayor are called, which the mayor through political maneuvering wins completely, and Alex is essentially exiled. Furthermore, afterwards, Alex’s uncles farm burns down, and hence they begin to create a new home for themselves under and powered by a windmill farm a bit away. However, Alex’s mother begins to drift apart, and chooses to stay in the town rather than follow, and Rebecca chooses to follow her. Building up the town, they encounter a series of new challenges. But they survive, and prosper. Many other towns and groups of people, including the town that they had been thrown out of, ultimately unite under him. However, this leads to many conflicts within the seperate groups, that somtimes have dark but necessary solutions. They are also brought into conflict with outside gangs once again, which through ingenuity they manage to win, but just barely. But surviving everything and coming out stronger, Alex and Darla get married, hopeful for the future.
The first book was incredibly boring, as was the first half of second book. The second book got much better. The reasons for this is that the writing style wasn’t all that great. It works well enough when just describing the plot and what was happening, but for things like action scenes where having good prose is crucially important and that can easily get repetitive otherwise, it wasn’t enough. The first half of the series is good for establishing the world that the second half uses, but it didn’t feel like much progression happened, and it felt repetitive and ultimately very slow. Alex and Darla went through a number of very different situations but ultimately all of them felt like the same thing in how they were ultimately dealt with. It was all very predictable. For some the development of the relationship between Alex and Darla may be enough to redeem the first half, but for me that too didn’t become interesting until the second half. The relationship development between Darla and Alex in the first half was too cliche for the amount of time spent on it.
It started getting much better from the point that Alex and Darla were separated. It got a lot less predictable. There was much less of a linear single goal story going on. Darla was obviously the final goal, but there were a series of other goals along that line. And a number of interesting characters other than Alex and Darla were introduced that were actually important and felt that way right off the bat. Alyssa and her relationship with Ben was interesting as soon as Alex found them. Ben was actually one of my favorite characters throughout, as he was awkward in a charming way but a genius and incredibly competent when it mattered. Alex’s parents were instantly shown tackling responsibility, and that became a strong theme after their introduction, which made the plot far more interesting. The third book continues along this line. Alex got a ridiculous amount of development in becoming a competent leader and taking on the burden of responsibility. Darla actually got some development from that, as well as through the conflicts with Alex’s mom and Alyssa. Doc, Belinda, Rebecca, Max, Ben, Rita, etc. all of them got strong development. A lot of relationships bloomed that I wished the best for. I wish Alyssa found happiness in some way by the end, but that was not to be I guess. Ben and Rebecca seemed to be doing better at least. A lot of strong adversarial relationships developed too, all centered around keeping power. And while they all may have been about power, the conflicts with the mayor, the reverend, and Red were all very different, handled in different ways and with very different consequences but were all similar in being incredibly suspenseful.
Politics, conflicts, and more nuanced human relations during an apocalypse were the interesting parts of this series, and the second half of the series did very well in that regard. Surviving in the wild without modern luxury were not, and hence the first half was a bit boring. The entire series is worth reading for the third book alone, and overall is a decent series.