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.
Ashen Winter starts about six months after Alex and Darla arrive on Alex's uncle's farm in Illinois, after a harrowing trip from Iowa fraught with many perils. Alex's parents are still missing.
Alex decides that he needs to go back to Iowa to find them. Of course, Darla won't let him leave alone, so they back up a sled with supplies and begin the long journey back to Alex's hometown.
The landscape has changed since they've been out on the road, snow covering most of the ash and food scarcer than ever before.
Mike Mullin keeps Ashen Winter much in the same tone as the first book, and the voices of the character remain familiar. The author continues with the same strong characters to the point of making them feel real, and the reader cannot help but root for them both. He also keeps up the suspense, throwing his characters into dangerous situations, and just when you think they're safe, another challenge rises up before them.
As in Ashfall, Alex and Darla meet those challenges head on, both of them thinking on their feet and adapting to the situation at hand. Alex lets his temper get the best of him on occasion, but that is to be expected from a teenage boy who's facing nearly insurmountable obstacles. And yet, what impressed me in this character, is that he perseveres.
Alyssa, a new character introduced in this book, is a counterpart to Darla in some sense, and I was concerned that Alex would delve into fickle teenagedom. I was pleasantly surprised and encouraged when Mike Mullin didn't let that happen. Alyssa's story also felt real, and while what happened to her was one of my fears for Darla, I was impressed by the delicateness with which the author approached that subject.
I was reminded again and again that in the face of a huge crisis, humanity tends to split into two factions - those who will help a fellow human in any way possible, and those who will take advantage of those weaker than themselves. Impotent rage was one of the many emotions the author's word evoked.
I also very much enjoyed getting to know Ben. The author did a fantastic job writing about someone in the autism spectrum, and his depiction of Ben felt very real. As did Alex's reaction to the idiosyncrasies someone with autism would display.
I continue to be impressed with the amount of research this author put into his novels, which serves to enhance the plot tremendously and make the book feel exceptionally realistic.
The writing remains crisp and precise, and spot on for a teenage boy going through a traumatic experience that requires all his cunning and all his reserves to get to where he needs to be.
There are some sad events, and one plot point kept me riveted to the pages until the resolution close to the end.
I feared for Alex and Darla, I cried with them, smiled with them, and I cannot wait to get my hands on the next book.
Spring 2014 cannot come soon enough!!!
As a sidenote:
I read both Ashfall and Ashen Winter in one weekend, and it's a credit to the author's ability that reading these books created nightmares and a deep urge to start hoarding food and supplies for my own family, just in case such a disaster ever happens in my life time.
This book and its predecessor are some of the best books I've read in the YA genre. If you like Young Adult books and are interested in post-apocalyptic scenes, this is a series for you. Give it a chance.
I received an ARC from the publisher via Netgalley. A positive review was not promised in return, but in this case absolutely deserved.