For a book that started off so slow and disconnected, I ended up loving the finale to the Ashfall series. That’s good, because getting there was something of a slog.
Where Ashfall and Ashen Winter were very linear, quest driven stories, Sunrise is more...open world. It’s much harder to sum up the plot, because a lot of things happen on a very surface level. That leads to the weird disconnected feeling I mentioned. I didn’t feel like events were properly delved into. Part of that is because Sunrise covers a much longer stretch of time than the first two books combined. Where their journeys took a few months, this book covers two and a half years of societal breakdown.
We pick up right after AW, with the townspeople marching to take back Warren. It goes poorly. I hope you weren’t attached to anyone. But while we witness the atrocities committed by Red and the Stocktonites, we don’t get to linger or mourn them. Characters die and that’s sad and kind of effects the rest of the group, but despite hearing that Mom’s got PTSD and someone’s kids are now orphans, I never felt the horror. Bad stuff piles and piles, forcing characters to take on different roles and move and starve, but again, it’s kind of glossed over.
For example, Darla and Alex both lose a hand for thievery. This is horrible and traumatic and extremely hard to read. They’re stripped naked and left to wander back to the homestead, wounded and freezing. They almost die in an emotional way. When they do make it back, they both lose toes to frostbite. Darla especially suffers from depression and possible PTSD as she can no longer work on her machines one handed.
Alex suggests she make them hooks. She does. They become amazing with the hooks and never struggle again. Their missing toes are never mentioned. This takes about two chapters.
However, after the event of the spoiler, I felt like the plot really steadied. There were still some weird things that didn’t particularly work or were even explained, (issues with Alex’s mom, a lot of people from the last books popping up,) but the establishment of the town gave the characters something to strive towards. I loved seeing Alex grow up and become a leader. The second election is a really great scene that shows how far he’s come.
The relationship between Alex and Darla continues to be stand out. I love her so much and it’s beautiful to see two people come together under such terrible circumstances. The final scene with the sunrise is perfect and elevates the whole book. Some people may find parts of their relationship hokey, but I liked the wedding as a symbol that life is going on. (The sex plot remains pretty silly. I refuse to believe that two late teen/early twenty-somethings don’t at least try coitus interruptus on their wedding night. Come on now.)
There’s good in Sunrise. I love the rebuilding of society. I love the longhouse and the windmills and the snipers nests. I love the expeditions to find supplies. I love the exchange program. I love seeing the politics come full circle. Unfortunately, that’s all in the second half of the book. The first half is bad decisions, pushing luck, and misery porn. The Ashfall series was never fun, but when it gets to the point of the Reds and eating dog food and boiled belts? I don’t want to read that. If you can stick with it through the bad, it’s a good ending, but I also don’t blame you if you can’t.