Turtledove offers a realistic but not terribly gripping depiction of the desperate slog life would become if a beloved national landmark became the epicenter of a devastating natural disaster.
During a solo vacation to Yellowstone, recently divorced California police lieutenant Colin Ferguson encounters seismologist Kelly Birnbaum, who conveniently informs him just how bad it would be if the park’s caldera were to blow. Given the book’s title, this clumsy bit of exposition hardly counts as foreshadowing. Turtledove’s sparse descriptive powers are just not up to infusing the actual moment of the eruption with the thrills that today’s action-movie fans have come to expect. Of course, that is not his purpose; rather, it is to rather glumly lay out the effects of said eruption over the next couple of years. Clouds of ash lower temperatures, bury the nation’s breadbasket and prevent travel and delivery of desperately needed supplies. Colin’s older son, a guitarist in a small-time indie band, becomes stranded in snow-choked Maine; his bitchy daughter Vanessa complains her way through various emergency shelters; and life continues just fine for the youngest, perennial Santa Barbara undergraduate Marshall. Meanwhile, Colin looks for (and doesn’t find) a serial killer, while Kelly’s academic specialty becomes terribly, terribly relevant. As Colin and Kelly fall in love, Colin’s ex-wife Louise faces karmic justice that has nothing to do with the catastrophe. None of it hangs together terribly well or inspires much emotional commitment from the reader.The novel doesn’t so much conclude as vaguely trail off at a convenient stopping point; that and Turtledove’s penchant for series suggest sequels are in the offing.