Thursday, January 30, 2014

Sunrise in a Darkened World

Alex and Darla are survivors in every way possible, but in a world that is dangerous in every way possible, it is hard to maintain hope of one day returning to living, not surviving. In Mike Mullin's Ashfall series finale, Sunrise, he brings the incredible story home in a way that couldn't be more perfect. 

After setting off to find his parents, losing Darla to flensers (cannibals), being a prisoner in a FEMA camp, finding his parents, finding Darla, and losing his father in the battle to save her, Alex knows all to well how ugly this world can be. He has returned to his uncle's farm outside Warren with his damaged mother, Darla, and a few others in tow. What he returns to is just as grim as his travels. The neighboring town, Stockton, is being run by a ruthless maniac named Red. Red might be insane, but he smart. That level of intelligence combined with such insanity is a dangerous combination. When Stockton takes all Warren's food stock including enough pork to last the town for the foreseeable future, Alex knows he must get it back. Unfortunately, the mayor of Warren is more concerned with his own ego than a smart strategy, and he leads his people into an ambush. When Alex takes charge and manages to recover most of the pork, he has not only made an enemy in Red, but also in the mayor. 

Alex understands his uncle's farm is too isolated, unprotected, and dangerous, but so is Warren. He tries to convince the town to protect itself, but he meets nothing but opposition. While he wants to protect everyone he can, he realizes he isn't going to risk his own life or the lives of those he loves trying to reason with people who don't want to listen. Alex is determined to find a way to increase his food production, create a surplus even, and find a way where they can survive without having to fear for their lives each and every day. What he doesn't expect is that in this new world, it doesn't matter how old you are. People look up to you, respect you, and put their lives in your hands if they believe in you. And it is hard not to believe in a young man like Alex.

When I first read Ashfall, I was blown away. Knocked on my literary behind! This story was absolutely phenomenal; in a genre full of stories just like it, it was a shining star. Ashen Winter was just as striking. And now Sunrise has left me devastated. It's over! Sunrise was such an impossibly perfect ending to this series that I am sobbing in my cocoa about the fact that we will never have another Ashfall story again! It is like Mullin knew exactly what I wanted from this story and delivered it like a true master. I mean, I knew this man was a heavyweight in the genre, but he just elevated himself to a class unto his own with this finale!

The progression of the story through the three books starts with Ashfall as the catastrophe novel. Then Ashen Winter is the survivor's novel. And finally, Sunrise is the novel of hope, healing, and moving on. That isn't to say there isn't a graphic and violent portrayal of life in this post-apocalyptic world, because this book is just as shocking and horrific as the first two, but it has a different message. This book brings the series full circle into a place where you wanted and needed it to go. It also allows the children of this new world to grow into their shoes the way they were meant to. Alex was just a bratty kid when the volcano blew. By the end, he is a man to be proud to stand beside. It was an amazing transition, and I feel honored to have witnessed it in this character, among others. But alongside Alex and Darla and the others you come to love and hold your breath when they find themselves in precarious situations, you are also confronted with the absolute worst examples of society. It is disturbing to see people act like these do, but you know as well as I do that they would be there, most likely profiting, in a post-apocalyptic world. 

Mullin's prowess as a storyteller, however, is that despite the dark and ugly side of humanity, you still find hope and humanity around every corner. Sure people are skeptical, but they can still turn out to be good people, great even, when given the opportunity. As dark as this series can get, there is always that restored faith in humanity that brings you back for more. When I got my hands on this book, I was so excited I abandoned a book I was 2/3 finished with. This series has made such an impact on me that I refused to wait even a day before starting it. I waited long enough between the last book and this one, that I couldn't wait another minute! So, thank you, Mr. Mullin. You brought to our shelves a story that is sure to cause irreparable damage because nothing will ever be able to live up to its greatness! 

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