Ashen Winter by Mike Mullin
Published October 16th 2012 by Tanglewood Press
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.
*An ARC was provided by Tanglewood Press in exchange for an honest review*
Ashen Winter is the sequel to Ashfall, a book that had blown me away with it's addictive story and heart-stopping action. Needless to say, I had high-hopes going into the second book. While it did deliver an engrossing and thrilling continuation to Alex & Darla's story, unfortunately it didn't live up to it's predecessor.
Ashen Winter is just as intense as Ashfall was, but in a different way. The characters have gotten used to navigating this scary new reality - post volcanic eruption, but that doesn't mean things are going any smoother. The world was plunged into a constant and aggressive winter, unlike anything we've ever seen before. Most people have become savages, and more than a few have even taken up cannibalism. Houses lie abandoned and/or vandalized, food supplies are scarce and past communities are in ruins or under-siege. Ashen Winter explores this new icy reality through Alex's eyes as he and Darla set off to find Alex's parents.
It was interesting to see the characters grow accustomed to this vastly new world this time around. The first book inevitably had a learning curb for everyone, but now Alex and his allies are learning to understand and have no choice but to adapt if they want to survive. Things may have gotten worse in some ways but it isn't new to them anymore, so it was quite compelling to see how a disaster like this can change people in so many different ways. That being said, I found Ashen Winter to be much less character-driven than it could have been; the emphasis here was clearly on the action. Now I love battles and conflict as much as the next person but to me, the balance of character development and action was what had made Ashfall so great! I was hoping for something similar with the sequel but this time around, the focus seemed to be put squarely on delivering one heart-stopping sequence after the other. Sure it was exciting but it was also exhausting to read because it felt like overkill.
There were a lot of characters from book 1 that we got to get to know even better this time around which I enjoyed, but there were also new characters introduced into the fold. Notably, Alyssa and her autistic brother Ben. I did quite like Ben and I felt he was an interesting addition. I'm thrilled author Mike Mullin decided to bring in someone like that into his story, because it's not something a lot of authors seem to feel comfortable in dealing with. Alyssa was another matter altogether though. Considering what we learn she's been through when we meet her, I found it unlikely that she'd be acting the way she was -especially towards Alex. Without going into spoilers, her behavior just really put me off. Because of the way the plot develops, Alyssa becomes a pretty big part of the story and her actions just rubbed me the wrong way.
There's also a twist at about the halfway point that I'm sure it was meant to add suspense - it certainly does makes sense within the world Mike Mullin has created - but it just ended up frustrating me to no end. I just wanted the thing resolved already but instead it dragged on for the better part of the book. I'm going to chalk that one up to personal taste though, I realize that said twist has likely riveted many a reader before me...and will continue to do so. I simply could not get into it and sadly it affected my overall enjoyment of the book.
Mullin is without a doubt a talented writer. He's clearly done his research on volcanoes, survival, self-defense and every other element woven into his story. Ashen Winter was for the most part a satisfying continuation to the series and I'm still a huge fan of Alex as a main character (and Darla!). I'm hoping that the final book Sunrise will allow for more character growth for the both of them.
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars