Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Tanglewood Press
Release date: October 8th 2012
Series: Ashfall #2
Reviewed by: Christine
It’s been over six months since the eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano. Alex and Darla have been staying with Alex’s relatives, trying to cope with the new reality of the primitive world so vividly portrayed in Ashfall, the first book in this series. It’s also been six months of waiting for Alex’s parents to return from Iowa. Alex and Darla decide they can wait no longer and must retrace their journey into Iowa to find and bring back Alex’s parents to the tenuous safety of Illinois. But the landscape they cross is even more perilous than before, with life-and-death battles for food and power between the remaining communities. When the unthinkable happens, Alex must find new reserves of strength and determination to survive.
I loved Ashfall, the first book in the post-apocalyptic series by Mike Mullin, so when I discovered that Ashen Winter was on Netgalley, I immediately requested it and you can imagine my joy when I got approved.
We all know that it is not easy for the second book in a series to live up to the first one, especially if the first one was as fantastic as Ashfall. Luckily, Ashen Winter did not disappoint.
At the end of Ashfall, Alex and Darla made it to his uncle’s farm, against all the odds only to discover that his parents had left themselves, looking for Alex. Due to his uncle's injury, Alex and Darla decided to stay until his uncle has healed and the weather has gotten better. Unfortunately, there’s no sign of better weather. What’s more, the farm is attacked by bandits and one of them has Alex’s father' shotgun. This is the last straw that convinces Alex to leave the tentative safety of the farm and go looking for his parents. Teaming with Darla, he sets out once again on a journey that seems all but doomed from the start. On their way, they meet allies and enemies and make new acquaintances.
Alex has come a long way since the beginning of this series. His transformation from a petulant moody teenager to a responsible adult continues in Ashen Winter, as he is forced to face the dangers of this brave new world yet again. However, there were numerous scenes where I really wanted to slap him. Some of his decisions were monumentally unwise and practically begged for problems to come further down the road. One of the most horrific consequences of one of his stupid ideas: Darla getting caught by a flenser gang. Now if you want to know what a flenser is, let me put it this way: their preferred food walks on two legs. So, Alex is faced with a choice even more difficult: rescue his parents first or the love of his life?
The atmosphere of this book is even more grim, violent and bleak than in the previous book. One of the biggest threats in the first book, starvation or death from thirst, seems to be one of the lesser evils in Ashen Winter. The biggest threat is yet again not the cold temperature or the lack of food, but other humans. Alex has to learn the hard way that nothing is like before the eruption. Even his parents have changed, not necessarily in a good way. The ruthless, self-serving and simply inhumane behavior makes the rare acts of kindness shine even brighter though. Rita Mae, the librarian from Ashfall, makes another appearance and I like her better each time.
The latest additions to Alex’s extended travel party, Alyssa and Ben, add a nice touch to the book: Alyssa makes the relationship between Alex and Darla a bit more interesting and Ben’s special condition, while portrayed in a very delicate way by Mike Mullin, leads to some lighter moments in the story. His vast military knowledge also comes quite in handy.
Ashen Winter is the perfect sequel to Ashfall. There were a few moments where I was upset about Alex’s behavior but, in the end, that didn’t diminish my reading pleasure. Harrowing, gripping and full of tension, Mike Mullins' second book is one of the post-apocalyptic books I would recommend to everyone.
Read the first two chapters of Ashen Winter here.